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The World’s Biggest Database of Pathogens

We make no secret of the fact that many of our MBAs love to travel to faraway places, trying to rid themselves of ethnocentric bias, and trying to uncover cultural stereotypes we can use to take the piss out of countries in our “Top AI Startups in Country X” articles every chance we get. If you’re a regular traveler, the whole “don’t drink anything that has ice cubes in it” or “don’t eat any fruit or vegetable you can’t peel” wisdom gets old. That Chinese guy cooking up some amazing “big plate chicken” isn’t washing the plates and silverware using purified water, and he’s not using purified water to make the congee with either. And don’t ask him any dumb questions about the ice, because he’ll just smile and nod at you. Just stuff that delicious street food in your gob and build that immune system up until you can eat Bhel Puri from 10 different Bengali street vendors without batting an eye.

The reason people get so worried about getting sick when they travel is because of germs. Also known as pathogens, the four major types of germs are bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. “They can invade plants, animals, and people, and sometimes they can make us sick,” says an explanatory article about germs over at KidsHealth.org which succinctly explains everything in such a simple manner that we’ll just let you read their article if you want to know more about any of the four types.

Now that we know what germs are, we can talk about how we might get to know them better. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, as they say. If we can somehow put together a database of every single germ out there, and then use the database to identify germs as they arise, maybe we would be in a better place to eradicate illness. That’s what our next company is working on as they’ve managed to put together the world’s biggest database of pathogens.

The World’s Biggest Database of Pathogens

Click for company websiteFounded in 2013, Washington DC startup Aperiomics has taken in just $100,000 in funding to build the first company in the world that can offer patients and doctors a way to identify any pathogen in any clinical sample (blood, tissue, urine, fecal, etc.). If you stop and think about that for a second, you might quickly come up with a pretty big question to ask. How has the medical world been able to function until now without this capability? Isn’t that the very first thing you would need to do before diagnosing any type of illness? Well, we’ve all gone to the doctor and had them say “just take these antibiotics and call me if things don’t clear up.” In a world where we’re creating synthetic life, that spray-and-pray approach is primitive, and should be a source of embarrassment to mankind right up there alongside the Kardashian family or the new Baywatch movie. Fortunately, Aperiomics is here to address at least one of these shortcomings.

Dr. Crystal R. Icenhour

Another skill you’ll pick up when traveling is the gut instinct to immediately assess a person as a threat within seconds of looking at them. Within seconds of looking at Dr. Icenhour, you know that she’s going to be charismatic and fun to listen to. And she certainly is. The first person in her family to go to college, Dr. Icenhour is the CEO and founder of Aperiomics and the person who co-founded the company. Her resume is one of those that when you read it, you immediately begin to question why you’ve squandered away your life so far. She’s accomplished a lot, and now she’s running the only company of its kind and scope in the world. Aperiomics can identify any known pathogen (bacteria, virus, fungi or parasite) in a single test through Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) of the DNA or RNA in a patient’s sample (blood, tissue, urine, fecal, etc.).  They then compare those genetic fingerprints against the Aperiomics Microbial Database which is a database of microorganisms that includes the world’s largest collection of pathogens.

The World's Biggest Database of Pathogens

Source: Aperiomics

How to Use the Testing Service

The one-of-a-kind test is unique because it tests for all known pathogens at once using the world’s biggest database of pathogens. Clinicians, patients, and researchers can use the test by filling out a form, after which they receive a specialized collection kit. Everything they need to send the sample is in the kit, including a solution that renders samples non-infectious and keeps the genetic material intact for up to 30 days at room temperature. Testing typically takes between 1-2 weeks. When it comes to cost, we’re only left with clues. The company’s FAQ page talks about insurance coverage and states “in some cases, patients will only be required to pay a $200/sample co-insurance plus shipping/handling charges.” That statement implies that the test is a fair amount more than $200, but until we hear otherwise from the company, we’re just left speculating.

Success Stories

If you’re one of those people who has a curious medical condition that doctors haven’t been able to diagnose until now, maybe you ought to give Aperiomics a try. On their website, they list out some interesting success stories which show how they’ve been able to sort out people with obscure medical conditions.

  • 22 years of pain that was previously diagnosed as “a syndrome with no cure” but turned out to be a very high abundance of Human Polyomavirus 2
  • An 11 year old had experienced years of suffering and illness and 95% of symptoms went away after MRSA was found
  • A 19 year old was diagnosed with Lyme disease when in fact he had “human whipworm,” something that’s even more disgusting than it sounds
  • An 81 year old man’s daughter saw Dr. Icenhour speak after which she had her father tested and treated successfully after 7 months of failed treatments

And the list goes on. Even Dr. Icenhour’s own mother was treated for a condition using the platform. They’re also looking at treating children who develop autistic symptoms suddenly, a condition known as Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder. In a TEDx talk she gave, Dr. Icenhour asks the intriguing question, “what if autism is a fungal infection?”

Conclusion

As you can imagine, Aperiomics is amassing a considerable amount of big data across multiple types of samples, all of which can be munched on by hungry machine learning algorithms when the time comes. Patterns within the data are being uncovered through projects and partnerships they have established across different universities and institutions. The next step will probably be to start looking at how pathogens interact with drugs, if they aren’t doing that already. If you were a venture capitalist vetting this business model, it would be pretty easy to sign a check right about now.

More than 75% of infections in the U.S. go undetected, and this unmet need is being addressed by this very interesting little company. The world would be much better off if more people knew the name Crystal Icenhour and far fewer people knew the name Kim Kardashian. At least then, more young women might gravitate towards STEM careers instead of fashion, probably the most useless “industry” that exists today. Maybe someday, society will get their priorities straight and start recognizing the accomplishments of scientists more in the media – regardless of their gender – instead of idolizing actors, people whose sole claim to fame is that they have successfully pretended to be someone else.

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