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Aspiring Engineer Assists in Fight vs Measles
November 6, 2007

Sarah creating spacers fo rmeasles vaccinePlastic and thin cardboard were among the few materials junior engineering major Sarah Evans had to work with at her summer 2007 internship.

Yet the product she worked on has the potential to save thousands of children who might otherwise die of measles.

Evans was as an intern at Aktiv Dry, a start-up pharmaceutical company working to develop an inhalable, aerosol measles vaccine. The Boulder, Colorado, company is aiming for a device that will cost just 26 cents, making the vaccine affordable for high-risk populations in third-world countries.

According to the World Health Organization, 2,000 people die every day from the measles, many of them children who live in areas without electricity or refrigeration to keep liquid vaccines viable (the powder-based vaccine Aktiv Dry is creating is intended to withstand extreme heat and humidity).

Using a model developed by a previous Aktiv Dry intern, Evans worked to create a spacer for the inhaler that would ensure that infants receiving the vaccine would get the correct dose. She experimented with the volume, shape, geometry and materials of the existing spacer to discover what design would be the most effective—in terms of both vaccine delivery and cost.

About 150 models of the spacer later, Evans had developed a device that could fit together with a mask and inhaler to help a small child take the vaccine.

Spacers Sarah created for measles vaccineAn aspiring chemical engineer, Evans landed her unpaid internship through a friend of the family who founded Aktiv Dry. She said it was the perfect fit for her engineering skills and career goals, especially given the company’s commitment to altruism. 

“It gave me the opportunity to use chemical engineering to help people in the third world," she said. "The opportunities that I had to work on my own design and be fully immersed in all aspects of the company provided the best experience I could hope for in an internship."

Evans became interested in the developing world when she made a trip to Kenya with a non-government organization in 2006. While she was there she observed local relief workers and even went to the funeral of a person who had died of AIDS. As she was exposed to the complex issues surrounding the AIDS crisis in Africa, she knew the solution to the problem would not be easy. She began to think, though, that she could be among those working toward an answer to the crisis. A Calvin Interim trip to Ecuador further convinced Evans that she should use her skills in chemical engineering to help deal with global health problems.

Sarah Evans at Aktiv DryEvans likes the idea of working with a company like Aktiv Dry because it is trying to develop affordable solutions to global health problems on a small scale. The company is funded by a grant related to the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative launched by Bill and Melinda Gates, and is committed to developing these kinds of products before focusing on commercial projects.

 While she finishes her degree at Calvin, Evans plans to stay focused on her goal to work toward global health solutions. She is part of an informal group of engineers who are passionate about international development, and who stay in conversation with each other about issues related to the developing world.

~by Allison Graff, Web communications coordinator

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