Lone Tree teen takes on opioid epidemic

Gitanjali Rao has taken on a new project in hopes of curbing widespread opioid addiction

Posted 7/30/19

Gitanjali Rao is at it again. The 13-year-old from Lone Tree earned her claim to fame last year when she demonstrated her device, Tethys, on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." Fallon was …

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Lone Tree teen takes on opioid epidemic

Gitanjali Rao has taken on a new project in hopes of curbing widespread opioid addiction

Posted

Gitanjali Rao is at it again.

The 13-year-old from Lone Tree earned her claim to fame last year when she demonstrated her device, Tethys, on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." Fallon was awestruck as Rao showed how her device is capable of detecting lead in drinking water through an app Rao created.

Now, Rao, a student at STEM School Highlands Ranch, is taking on the opioid epidemic.

Rao recently finished a prototype for a new app she developed called Epione, named after the Greek goddess of relieving pain. It is designed to work with a corresponding device that helps more clearly illustrate a patient's situation — how addicted he or she is to opioids.

The prototype boosted Rao to be a finalist in the Technovation World Pitch Summit in Santa Clara, California, Aug. 13-16. Technovation is a program encouraging and assisting teams of girls from all over the world to solve problems within their community by developing an app, according to the challenge's website, TechnovationChallenge.org.

“There were so many teens getting into prescription opioids, and before anybody knew about it, it was too late to do anything about it,” Rao said. “I wanted to come up with a way to diagnose prescription opioid addiction at an early stage so you can take action earlier.”

How does this app work?

It helps diagnose opioid addiction at an early stage. It automates the immunosorbent testing part of the opioid addiction diagnoses process. My goal for it is to be something that physicians can use to monitor addiction.

What stage are you in right now?

I have a working prototype ready to go. My next steps are working on the side of things like portability, cost and starting to look at the business side of it as well. That's really why Technovation has been really amazing for me because I can really explore the business side of things.

What got you interested in this topic?

It was all over the news, first of all. There were so many teens getting into prescription opioids, and before anybody knew about it, it was too late to do anything about it. That was one of the reasons. I also had a personal connection with it. One of our family friends became addicted to prescription opioids after a car accident. It's scary to think it can happy to you without you knowing it. I wanted to come up with a way to diagnose prescription opioid addiction at an early stage so you can take action earlier.

How does your app detect possible signs of opioid addiction?

There are a certain amount of opioids your body can't take in — those bind to this (mu-opioid receptor) gene and it produces even more protein than before. I'm adding a certain antibody and enzyme to a DNA sample, and it's telling me the darker the color is, the more protein is being produced, which automatically translates to the more addicted you are. I'm taking that sample and putting it into my device... The device takes a picture…The app cuts that picture down to a region of interest and compares it to a set of pre-calibrated images. It creates almost a spectrum of what a sample would look like without addiction and what a sample would like with addiction...Based on where it is it can tell you if you're addicted to prescription opioids.

At this point, it's all based on the sample you take. There's nothing you need to submit in the app. In my future plans, I'm looking at how protein levels differ… That's going to take a lot more extensive research.

Where do you go from here?

I'm not really sure if I have an exact time frame. Business plans really take longer than you expect them to. Plus it will take an extra year or two of research before I can actually roll it out there.

Tell us about the Technovation Challenge.

I applied for the Technovation Challenge. I ended up being a finalist, so I get to go to the World Pitch event in August. This is an awesome opportunity because there are girls from all around the world — Bolivia, Cambodia, Canada, Nigeria — it's just an awesome opportunity to network. In August, I get to go there and give a pitch, kind of like I'm pitching to "Shark Tank" about where I want to take my app and how it's going to help others.

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