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NIDA. (2019, August 19). These Teens’ Ideas Could Save Lives . Retrieved from

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The NIDA Blog Team
August 19 2019
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Tinotenda Zimhunga shows the prototype of the mobile alcohol sensor that she and Rufaro Mutugo developed. (Image by NIDA.)

We’ve introduced you to the winners of the 2019 Addiction Science Awards. Now let’s meet the amazing students who received honorable mentions for their important projects.

Creating a simple test for oral cancer

Oral (mouth) cancer accounts for 30 percent of all cancers in Bangalore, Karnataka, India. But many people there live far from a doctor. Nikhiya Shamsher, 16, of Bangalore worried that a lot of teens and adults in her community were smoking or chewing tobacco and not getting medical tests for oral cancer. Tobacco users who feel a sore in their mouth may think it will just go away. By the time they get medical help, it can be too late.

Nikhiya developed an easy-to-use device that tests for a certain chemical in a person’s saliva. The device, which she named QuitPuff, detects levels of malondialdehyde (MDA). Nikhiya used the MDA level as an indicator of how much damage smoking has caused in a person’s mouth; the damage can point to an early risk of developing oral cancer.

She tested QuitPuff with 500 people, and it was nearly as accurate at detecting MDA levels as a much more expensive test. The QuitPuff testing kit costs less than $20, making it more affordable for clinics to offer in rural or poor areas. To continue her research, Nikhiya presented the project to the officials of the Government of India and has received a research grant.

She plans to refine the test’s accuracy, conduct clinical trials, and eventually launch the device as a commercial diagnostic test. Thanks to Nikhiya’s compassion and hard work, more people might be able to get health care early enough to save their lives. 

Keeping drivers safe with a mobile alcohol sensor

Tinotenda Zimhunga, 18, and Rufaro Mutugo, 17, are from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe in Africa. Concerned about the number of deaths caused by drunk driving every year, the pair wondered if they could improve on systems in cars that prevent people from driving if their breath tests over the legal limit of alcohol.

These systems, called alcohol sensors, are installed in cars for people who have struggled with impaired driving in the past. Before the person can turn on their car, they have to blow into a sensor that can detect alcohol in their breath. If the sensor detects too much alcohol, it deactivates the car’s ignition.

Tinotenda and Rufaro wondered: What if the system was extended to a driver’s mobile phone? They designed a system so that after the ignition is deactivated, the car sends a text and GPS location to the cell phone of an emergency contact. The driver can then be picked up by loved ones—keeping the driver, and others on the road, safe.

Tinotenda and Rufaro researched the electrical and software systems needed to make their system work and created a prototype. Their idea could ultimately help make driving less dangerous for everyone.

Do you have an idea that could help prevent drug use, or reduce the risks associated with it? Start working on that idea, and we may see you at the 2020 Addiction Science Awards!