One in 10 people are highly attractive to mosquitos. I am one of them. To enjoy the peace of the gloaming in warm weather, I surround myself with flaming citronella buckets or douse my skin with noxious chemicals. DEET, the most effective, has been around for more than half a century. Eucalyptus oil and soybean oil are distant runners up in the repellant department, as are a range of snake oils which I have not tried.
Scientists have barely scratched the surface (sorry) in their research into specific mosquito stimuli, but they do know several things. One is that genetics account for 85 percent of human susceptibility to mosquito bites. Another is that carbon dioxide is the major attractor of the bugs, followed by body heat. Third, compounds in the body’s chemistry, which in some people can occur in excess on the skin, announce that dinner is served; these include steroids, cholesterol and uric acid. Fourth, the larger you are, the more likely a target you become to the bloodthirsty bugs: more CO2, you see.
My First-World problem with itchy bites is laughable, of course, when we consider that some folks have severe allergies to mosquito attacks, and that some of the planet’s most virulent diseases are transmitted by our winged female friend Culiseta longiareolata. Several forms of encephalitis, West Nile virus, dengue fever, and malaria are all borne by mosquitos and all can lead to suffering and death.
We are about to witness the introduction of a new mosquito repellant, one that shows great promise in performance, and it is a sticker.
Its name is Kite Patch, a flat square, roughly 1.5” x 1.5”, containing an adhesive on the reverse side for attachment to clothing. According to the device’s developers, users just place the patch onto their apparel and the proprietary chemistry contained therein will keep mosquitos at bay for up to 48 hours. Compared with everything else, that’s a nice long time; DEET on skin lasts only up to five hours.
Kite is being tested today not on summer campers from well-heeled enclaves, but in Uganda, where people have only skin sprays and cloth netting to repel mosquitos bearing sickness.
The Kite Patch is the creation of a collaborative effort between ieCrowd, an innovation venture capital group, and Olfactor Laboratories (OLI), a subsidiary of ieCrowd. Both are based in Riverside, CA, USA. A crowdfunding campaign launched in July to raise $75,000 for the test launch was easily surpassed, and a new goal of $385,000 has been set. By early August the project had attracted well over $300,000.
Original funding for the technology came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Olfactor Laboratories received more funding from the NIH to further develop the Kite technology, and the company is working with the US Department of Agriculture and the US Walter Reed Army Institute for Research to test a range of technologies relating to mosquitos and other insects.
The design of the Kite Patch is focused on delivering the repelling compounds in a simple, affordable, and scalable sticker that can be used by individuals for recreation and work, and particularly by those in regions affected most by malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. Each patch is colorful and bright, reflecting designs and colors that are meaningful to various communities around the world.
“The Kite Mosquito Patch is a breakthrough product using the discovery of the compounds capable of disrupting mosquitoes’ ability to find us,” says Michelle Brown, the chief scientist and vice president of OLI. “This isn’t just another mosquito product, but a powerful alternative to most products on the market, enabling people to live normal lives with a new level of protection against contracting mosquito-borne diseases.”
The idea for the Kite came in 2011 from Anandasankar Ray, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside, and also the founder of Olfactor Labs. He found that certain chemical compounds can inhibit the carbon dioxide receptors in mosquitos. The odoriferous compounds act as a force field and disorient the insects, rendering them unable to sense our CO2.
Ray’s findings generated instant excitement and enthusiasm in the field, but the technology involved compounds that were toxic and would not pass muster with the US Food & Drug Administration nor with the US Environmental Protection Agency. Enter ieCrowd. That company’s business is to guide ideas through the labyrinth of steps and stages to the point at which it is useful and profitable. ieCrowd acquired Ray’s intellectual property, provided business infrastructure, marketing and general support. With Kite, the company set up Olfactor Laboratories to develop new, safer chemicals based on the founder’s research.
Eventually, Olfactor developed non-toxic compounds to work against mosquitoes’ long-range abilities to detect humans through CO2, as well as dampening the insect’s short-range ability to sense us from our basic human odors. The chemicals, which give off a “faint pleasant smell,” are applied to a small sticker, which is the cheapest, easiest, and most adaptable way to design a spatial insect repellant, according to Grey Frandsen, vice president if ieCrowd. Field testing in Uganda is expected to begin before the end of the year. “Really, what we’re doing is creating a rapid scientific development process, a rapid prototyping process and then a very aggressive go-to-market strategy,” Frandsen says of ieCrowd’s method.
The original plan was to send 20,000 patches to one district in Uganda, which would provide about a million hours of coverage against mosquitos. The extra money raised in the recent drive will increase the number of Kite Patches shipped and expand the coverage to four million hours in three political districts in the country. Goals of the tests include learning how well it works in various climatic conditions, determining how far its spatial radius extends, and finding the limitations of its physical properties: Is it easy to apply, to wear? Does it work well at all times of day? Will the adhesive properties meet a wide range of stresses?
“We formed this company to pursue a set of products based on pretty incredible technology,” says Frandsen. “The technology and the materials we are producing now effectively make humans invisible to mosquitos. We alter or manipulate the neuron that mosquitos use to detect CO2.
“In the market today, unfortunately, there are very few efficient, effective defense mechanisms we use as communities or as individuals to prevent ourselves from being bitten, primarily because everyone up until this point hasn’t focused on changing the way in which we treat mosquitos. So instead of just defending ourselves with simple bed nets or simple spray, which might be toxic to children or to water sources, we are taking the battle to the mosquito.”
Following the testing in Africa, the Kite Patch developers will pursue various regulatory approvals in the United States. Upon successful completion, the plan is to make it available to consumers over the counter. ieCrowd says it expects commercial availability to take at least a year.
The author is president of Jack Kenny Media, a communications firm specializing in the packaging industry, and is the former editor of L&NW magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.