Managing asthma can be time consuming and painful. You’re subject to allergy tests and X-Rays. Your lung capacity is measured by blowing into a spirometer, a small device that looks something like a breathalyzer. After your lungs swell and become inflamed, the symptoms are diagnosed through another series of invasive tests known as bronchoprovocation.
Edward Allegra, a 22-year-old senior at Southern Methodist University, wants to ease that process. Allegra has launched a company named BioLum Sciences and has developed a smartphone-enabled device that targets a chemical in a user’s breath sample. The concentration of said chemical can tip off the presence and severity of asthma without all the previous tests. The results can then be shared with a doctor.
“I need to make this become a reality. I want someone to come to me and say how much better their life is because of what I’ve done here,” says Allegra. “I think that’s the end goal.”
Allegra’s invention recently won the top prize at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, a program created at the John Cook School of Business at St. Louis University that recognizes exceptional undergraduates who manage schoolwork while also running their own nonprofit business. The program provides mentorship, recognition, and connections needed to further develop their business.
Professor Simon Mak, who teaches entrepreneurship courses at SMU, discovered BioLum through the chemistry department. Mak was looking to put together a student team for a local business competition at TCU.
“He is a very quick learner,” Mak said of Allegra. “Once he sets his mind on an objective, he goes after it with great effort and focus. He has maturity beyond his years. His success reflects a SMU and Dallas culture that will bend over backwards to help bright, hardworking, serious student entrepreneurs.”
The market for such a device is significant. According to the mot recent Global Asthma Report, about 300 million people in the world suffer from asthma. It has been widely reported that there is a large misdiagnosis rate of asthma nationally, including in countries such as Canada and Italy.
According to the American Lung Association the annual direct and indirect health care cost of asthma totals to $56 billion in the U.S. alone. This is an extremely high amount considering that there is a large misdiagnosis rate. There are 6.8 million children in the U.S. who suffer from asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma is the number one cause for school absences, which brings a significant loss of funding. The Center For The Next Generation conducted a study that found at least $30 million in lost revenue due to asthma-related absences in the California school system annually.
Allegra and his team are in the finalizing stages of the product. They just completed a research study that compared their methods of detection with a similar method that is very costly and ineffective in a real world setting. They are currently in the midst of analyzing the results and setting up a clinical trial with multiple healthcare providers that will begin within the next three to four months. They hope to begin selling the product by the first half of 2017.
“In EO we encourage our members to ‘Make a Mark,’” says Jessica Nunez, Founder and President of TruePoint Communications in Dallas and the Chair of the EO Dallas Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. “BioLum is certainly doing so by attempting to revolutionize how people manage chronic illness like asthma. And, the way they are doing this is with a sleek, ‘cool’ technology.”
But the path to success hasn’t been easy. Balancing fifteen-hour days full of school and work can be overwhelming, especially for a 22-year-old. But, “it’s definitely been rewarding,” says Allegra. “I think that’s just part of the growing up process for me.” He grew up in New Jersey fishing in the ocean. Now, living in Dallas and no ocean in sight, he has taken up fresh water fishing. Allegra admits that he is definitely an outdoorsman. During his free time he enjoys camping with his roommate and friends.
He’ll get a look at the open water soon, though. Allegra and his team will be representing Dallas with BioLum Science at the U.S. National Competition in Miami the first week of March.
“The best way to prepare, at this point,” he says, “is to just progress my business and continue developing what we have.”