OmniVis innovates new ways to combat water-borne disease


Clean water is the most important resource people need to access, yet it is all too scarce across multiple underdeveloped nations. Not to mention regions that have recently been afflicted by natural disasters.

Even when water sources are plentiful in such places, many of them become too polluted and poisonous to drink. Even worse, when drinking water sources are called into question, modern safety tests still take multiple days to accurately conduct. In that time, thousands are subject to exposure and infection from water-borne pathogens from the drinking sources they depend upon.

That’s why OmniVis, an innovative startup based out of San Francisco, is pioneering a faster and cheaper way to learn what disease-causing factors are present in water sources.

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Understanding the Crises Surrounding Clean Water

To appreciate the global need for more easily accessible water testing, just recall some of the recent outbreaks we’ve seen.

For instance, after the 2010 earthquake which devastated Haiti, over 665,000 people came down with cases of cholera. Cholera is the bacterium that cultivates in water which becomes over-saturated with feces.

Of the 665,000 infected in Haiti, more than 8,000 of them died during the epidemic. If those people had access to better water testing, it’s likely more of them could have successfully avoided contaminated sources.

In fact, it was this specific cholera outbreak that inspired the startup’s CEO and co-founder, Katherine Clayton, to create OmniVis. That’s not to suggest that cholera exposure is particularly common, but other water-borne diseases certainly are, and OmniVis aims to eventually defend against a wide range of afflictions.

Applying OmniVis into the Future

This new form of water testing presented by OmniVis operates through handheld devices that were specially designed by the startup.

They just recently showcased their solution last week at TechCrunch Disrupt 2019, and when the product finally launches into the hands of NGOs and governments worldwide, it could potentially save countless lives.

According to the company’s mission statement, its goal is to “create the tools to prevent infectious diseases affordably.” If all goes to plan, their water testing methods shouldn’t cost more than the average pregnancy test.

Their technology is based around microfluidics, and works by exposing water to a set of chemical primers. These primers are specially engineered to bind to pieces of cholera’s DNA. So, if the bacteria is present in a water source then the water becomes notably more viscous. All meaning their testing method doesn’t actually analyze cholera’s presence, but reliably measure other factors that suggest it is there. OmniVis’ water testing methods aren’t concentrated to cholera either, as their system can easily detect other pathogens through similar methods.

While no hard release date has been set, Omnivis’ unique water testing devices are expected to ship later in 2020.