HOUGHTON - Carrie Yarina, a 2008 Houghton High School graduate and University of Michigan chemical engineering student, wants to change the world, and an idea first conceived in a U of M freshman engineering class may go a long way to doing just that.
Yarina developed the idea for a centrifuge - a medical device that rotates at high speeds to separate blood and is necessary to run a wide variety of diagnostic tests - made almost entirely out of bicycle parts. It would drastically reduce the amount of time and money required for diagnostic tests in poor rural environments - saving lives in the process.
Since her freshman class project that involved five students, Yarina and fellow U of M engineer Alex Thinath have founded CentriCycle (centricycle.com), which now involves an interdisciplinary team of 19 University of Michigan students looking to take the simple class project to the next level.
"It's very difficult. Moving something from the stage of student project to actual business is a huge leap ... but I think it's well worth it," said Yarina, who received the prestigious Harry B. Benford Award for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Clifton S. Goddin Prize, largely for her work with CentriCycle. "We put so much effort into making it into the point it was and realized it could go a lot further."
A lot further conceptually, and a lot further geographically.
Yarina, who had already traveled to Turkey as a Rotary International exchange student between high school and college, (she is now vice president of the U of M chapter of Rotaract) took a trip to India during the summer of 2011. It had a profound impact on her and she realized the poor rural access to health care coupled with the ready availability of bicycles made India the perfect place to introduce CentriCycle on a larger scale.
As Yarina described in an essay describing her human-centric design concept, a small tribal village in India she visited only had access to a small, mobile clinic that travels to the village once a month, equipped only with a stethoscope.
"There's no means of diagnosing people out in rural villages ... and to diagnose it right on location, it could save a lot of lives," she said in an interview with The Daily Mining Gazette.
Yarina and her team tried several different devices that could be easily transformed into a centrifuge, but none met the requirements - high velocity spinning, stability, locally available materials, affordability and simple maintenance - as well as a bicycle.
The CentriCycle can't reach the speeds of an electric centrifuge, but at a fraction of the cost (the CentriCycle only costs $50, compared to the possible $1,000 price tag on an electric centrifuge), the speeds and rate of acceleration are still sufficient to diagnose many diseases through blood samples - with a specific focus on anemia through a simple test called a hematocrit.
Up to 40 percent of maternal deaths per year in India are caused by iron-deficiency anemia and 30 percent of babies are born with low birth weights due to anemic mothers.
With an even more narrowed-down focus, Yarina and her team recognized the need to add value and buy-in from patients, clinicians and non-governmental organizations (NGO) that have outreach programs to rural villages.
"Providing one piece of the puzzle (the centrifuge) was not enough. We needed to support the infrastructure so that they had the right materials to make our centrifuge as useful as it could be," Yarina said in her essay. "In order to ensure that patients had the right information and resources once diagnosed, we realized that an education program was required."
That's where the interdisciplinary team comprised of six divisions - business and economics, public health, research and testing, art and publicity, website and prototyping - came in.
The team currently meets at least weekly and is applying lessons learned from last year's trip to India, sustaining contracts, developing new ones and refining their prototype.
Yarina plans to visit India against this summer, and she hopes to move to India after graduation to establish CentriCycle as a business with full-fledged operations, starting by working with a few NGOs in a few targeted villages for implementation. Eventually she hopes to work with the government to improve life all across India.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has," said Margaret Mead in a now-famous quote that Yarina has used as inspiration.
"It is an ambitious dream, but a realistic one," Yarina said.
For more information on CentriCycle, including a video demonstration, team member biographies and partners, visit centricycle.com.