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Ruchi Shah: Taking a Bite Out of Mosquito-Borne Diseases

Ruchi ShahFreshman Ruchi Shah takes center stage as the youngest speaker at the Forbes Women’s Summit

Stony Brook University freshman Ruchi Shah is already a power player. The biology major, journalism minor, who is also in Stony Brook’s selective Scholars for Medicine program, was the youngest participant among the 200 invitees at the inaugural two-day Forbes Women’s Summit: Power Redefined on May 8 and 9 in Manhattan. She earned her place among the impressive roster of CEOs, leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators beginning in her sophomore year at Sachem North High School when she began developing an all-natural, inexpensive mosquito repellent. Her commitment to tackling a pressing world problem, coupled with her passion for science, was no doubt the reason she was also chosen as a spotlight speaker for the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) panel.

The Ronkonkoma, New York, native became aware of the threat of mosquito-transmitted diseases during a family trip to India when her uncle came down with dengue fever. “I couldn’t stop thinking about the long lines of people waiting at the clinic to get treatment,” said Shah. Mosquito-transmitted diseases, which in addition to dengue fever include malaria, West Nile virus and yellow fever, are responsible for millions of deaths each year, yet control methods have become a dilemma due to the development of resistance by mosquitoes and increased concern about health and environmental hazards. “I had this big idea — to develop an all-natural mosquito repellent — so I could not only help people in developing countries, but also help people back home.” 

Her research zeroed in on nitrogen-based compounds as the component in human perspiration that attracts mosquitoes. She then developed a repellent that not only neutralizes the nitrogen, but also masks the scent of human perspiration. “And it’s completely natural and low cost,” said Shah. Her goal now is to patent her formula and “use the profits to donate the repellent to third-world countries to reduce the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases.”

Thanks to her recent participation in the Forbes Women’s Summit, she may be well on her way. “It was such an inspiring, life-changing experience,” said Shah. “I was sitting at the same table with a CEO of Verizon and an award-winning filmmaker… to have such a broad spectrum of successful people show an interest in my work is an incredible opportunity.” Shah said the goal of the Summit is to form a network to share resources, contacts, collaborations and mentorships. “The Summit renewed my passion for sharing my love of science with others,” said Shah. 

In addition to her rigorous classwork and entrepreneurial venture, Shah has been working in the laboratory of Kenneth Shroyer, MD, PhD, chair of Stony Brook’s Department of Pathology, for more than two years on research to improve cervical cancer diagnosis. The focus of the lab and Shah’s work is to find and validate biomarkers that will allow for more sensitive and specific diagnosis of precancer of the cervix. This summer she heads up to The Jackson Laboratory in Maine for a co-funded National Science Foundation REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) fellowship. During the nine-week program, Shah will be working on genetic chemotherapy and its application to improve cancer treatment.

— By Joanne Morici; photo courtesy of Ruchi Shah


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