St Petersburg University announced the results of the ‘St Petersburg University Start-up 2019’. First place, a scholarship of 300 000 roubles and a grant of 1 000 000 roubles was awarded to the α-Tear-Test team. They have developed a rapid test for the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, which is based on the analysis of lachrymal fluid.

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‘The report of our American colleagues on the content of various types of protein in lachrymal fluid, including alpha-synuclein, led us to the idea of developing a rapid test,’ said Viacheslav Vetoshkin, team leader and a student of general medicine. ‘We conducted preliminary research following the same model as the American scientists; and then compared the level of alpha-synuclein in tears of healthy people and people suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The aim was to test the hypothesis that an increase in the level of this protein is a diagnostic indicator of Parkinson’s disease. The outcomes of our tests have been quite encouraging.’

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The test, developed by students, will make it possible to diagnose the disease even at home. The analyser works in a similar way to a pregnancy test. It is based on immunochromatography which registers the antibody reaction to a particular type of protein with the help of coloured stripes. In order to collect lachrymal fluid, the test patch with an indicator should be placed under the lower eyelid for a few seconds. The result will be displayed within ten minutes. Students plan to come up with a prototype of the test strip and start trials shortly. The team also includes Ekaterina Spiricheva and Aleksandr Khomenko, students of general medicine, Mariia Pechnikova, student of public administration, and Danis Akhunzianov, student of law.

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Second place, a scholarship of 200 000 roubles and a grant of 700 000 roubles, was awarded to the In Sapiens team. The team is developing a device for the remote monitoring of people with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The device might also simplify documentation management in clinics.

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Third place and a scholarship of 100 000 roubles went to the Biotrek team. The students are developing a method for tracking medicine in the human body without causing harm to human health. The main idea of the project is to replace protium, which is now a component of a large number of medicines, with deuterium, its non-radioactive isotope. It would result in making it unnecessary to add heavy metals and iodinated organic chemicals to medicine.

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Once again, teams working on medical developments have become winners of the competition. Healthcare is indeed one of the most profitable business spheres. St Petersburg University is also developing its medical academic programmes; and the participants of the competition are able to consult the best experts in this area.

Evgenii Pen, Chairman of the Expert Council, Executive Director of the St Petersburg University Endowment Fund

It is the fourth time that the University Endowment Fund has supported St Petersburg University Start-up competition. This year the organising committee received 33 applications and 13 teams were short-listed for the semi-final. Each team member received a four-month scholarship of 7 000 roubles from the University Endowment Fund to improve their project.

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‘According to my estimates, over 60% of teams scored 90 points out of 100 this year,’ said Vladislav Zanin, head of ‘Oceanos’. ‘It means that students took these projects very seriously and did significant work. I would like to say that even those who have not been short-listed have every chance to realise their ideas.’

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The main requirement of participants in the competition is to develop a science-based and commercially viable project. Each team must have 3 to 5 students or doctoral students of St Petersburg University from at least three different academic programmes. Winners at each stage are selected by an expert council composed of representatives of the University and renowned business people.

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‘It is great that every participant is really enthusiastic about their project and truly wants to work on it’, said Dmitry Perets, Chief Specialist of the Integrated Design Development Department of Gazpromneft NTC LLC. ‘My only advice for all participants is: even if your projects are not selected this time and your names are not among the winners, continue working on your ideas, make it all happen and never rest on your laurels.’

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