Spring 2018

Building a Better Test

An enterprising dental student’s idea has led to a portable, low-cost HIV test kit being marketed in Vietnam.

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In middle school, Shawn Jungsu Kim, D20, already knew he wanted to be a dentist. In high school, he decided to focus on periodontics because of its many connections to systemic health, and to explore the field of infectious disease—especially new ways to detect human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

What struck Kim, in looking at the global impact of HIV, was that the available testing methods were not ideally suited for the developing world, where access to sterile conditions and refrigeration can be limited. He started thinking about a relatively inexpensive test kit that would meet these criteria. “Anyone can have a great idea,” he said. “What’s harder is to bring the idea to life.”

Five years in the making, the Real Time PCR Test Kit provides a novel way to collect and preserve blood samples, and uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to look for genetic traces of HIV in blood. It is manufactured by CY Molecular Diagnostic, based in San Diego, where Kim now serves as chief marketing officer (in addition to his dental school duties).

In 2017, Kim was one of 30 students, chosen from a pool of thousands, honored by the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) for his work. CGIU is a national conference for students and experts to discuss solutions to global challenges. When Kim started his project, he was determined to design it for health-care systems in low-income countries. “I was born into a privileged family,” said Kim, a native of Seoul, South Korea, who was sent to the U.S. to attend school as a young child. “I’m using this privilege for the greater good of the world.”

From his high school mentor to the staff in San Diego—and all the teachers, scientists, and business people he has worked with in between—Kim stresses that this wasn’t a one-man project. What excites him is the interdisciplinary collaboration among technology, business, science, and health care. “There aren’t many dentists in biotech,” he said. “I want to be the person who knows both medicine and business.”

Inexpensive

Traditional kits in the same category can cost hundreds of dollars. Real Time PCR costs $9.

Compact

The kit is so small that it can be easily transported from the field to the lab for analysis.

Versatile

Unlike some other products, Kim’s test kit can be used with dried or liquid blood.

Stable

The kit does not require refrigeration, which can be hard to come by in remote areas.

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