Silicon Valley’s Osh Agabi lifts the lid on Koniku’s disease-detection tech

Silicon Valley’s Osh Agabi lifts the lid on Koniku’s disease-detection tech
Koniku’s product is undergoing clinical trials in the US to assist in COVID-19 detection. (AFP)
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Updated 20 October 2021

Silicon Valley’s Osh Agabi lifts the lid on Koniku’s disease-detection tech

Silicon Valley’s Osh Agabi lifts the lid on Koniku’s disease-detection tech
  • Koniku Kore uses biotech based on mice neurons to detect diseases, chemicals and even explosives
  • Founded in 2015, Koniku aims to revolutionize health security through robotics and synthetic neurobiology

DUBAI: Artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies are expected to completely transform the way people live, work and do business. But one area where exciting developments are already becoming a reality is in health.

Osh Agabi, originally from Nigeria, has received funding from tech giants in Silicon Valley to develop his “clinical cyborg” — an innovation that aims to detect more than 4,000 smells simultaneously, resulting potentially in the diagnosis of a variety of diseases.

Agabi has drawn the attention of American venture capitalists impressed by his study of human cells grown on a computer chip.

“One thing that has always been a primary driver for me is, how does the human body essentially function?” he told Arab News.

“How is it possible that we are capable of so much? A human being is essentially a machine but a very advanced one.”

Of course, even the most sophisticated machinery can malfunction from time to time, which means the medical tools needed to diagnose and address these issues must evolve and advance.

With this in mind, Agabi launched his own company in 2015, named Koniku — which translates as “immortal” in Nigeria’s Yoruba dialect — specializing in robotics and synthetic neurobiology.

Among its recent creations is the Koniku Kore, which the company says is capable of detecting and interpreting 4,096 different smells at the same time.

“At any given time, you are exhaling literally thousands of different smells, and these different smells are giving us an indication as to the state of your health,” Agabi said.

“If you have a disease, there’s a smell signature associated with it. So, we now have a platform that could potentially be scaled worldwide to offer comprehensive clinical-grade data in everybody’s bathroom, collecting breath in real time and making every individual the CEO of their health.”

Scientists have long recognized the ability of dogs to sniff out human emotions such as fear and sadness and even detect certain cancers and other illnesses.




Scientists have long recognized the ability of dogs to sniff out emotions and illnesses. (Shutterstock)

Agabi and his team have isolated similar brain cells in mice, genetically modified them to carry proteins that allow them to smell the contents of the air and inserted them into a Koniku chip.

The chip is then placed inside the Koniku Kore, which collects air through a mechanical pump and passes it on to the cells. The cells then detect the smell and give off signals that are interpreted by the device’s onboard computer. Weighing just 700 grams, the device is ideal for home use, says the company.

“Our target, before this decade ends, is to have our technology in 10 million homes to analyze disease in real time,” Agabi said.

Some scientists caution that fusing natural proteins with silicon circuits is a daunting task, citing the fragility of cells and the complexity of their interactions with chemical substances.

A CNN web report of 2020 on Koniku quoted Timothy Swager, a chemistry professor at MIT, as saying that to pull off what the company claims would require “some technical miracle.”

Agabi, who completed his PhD studies in bioengineering and computational neuroscience at the ETH Zurich and Imperial College in London, intends to present his invention to potential investors at the upcoming Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh.

“It’s the thing that gets me up every morning and I’m excited about it,” he said.

Agabi is likely to find an enthusiastic crowd of potential investors. He won a startup competition organized by the Misk Global Forum in Saudi Arabia two years ago, so there are sure to be many in the Kingdom’s developing health-tech sector awaiting his return visit.

“It’s something I feel very privileged to do as a person coming from my background, born and bred in Lagos but mostly educated in Europe and now in the US scaling this technology to a global audience,” he said.

Given the healthcare challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the growing commercial interest in home and wearable health tech, Agabi believes there is a ready market for his creation.




Osh Agabi wants to bring that power to humans. (Supplied)

The device is currently undergoing clinical trials with Treximo and the University of Southern Nevada. Given its potential application as a rapid COVID-19 detection test, Koniku hopes to secure emergency use authorization for its product in the near future. From there, the sky is the limit for a whole new range of bio- and neuro-tech.

“Synthetic neurobiology and biotechnology will be big,” Agabi said. “When we have biotechnology or synthetic biology merged with data, machine learning and AI, what is possible is unprecedented. It will be the next big thing.”

Koniku’s customers to date include Airbus, which uses the technology to detect explosive compounds, and Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world’s largest manufacturer of scientific equipment, to sense fentanyl, methamphetamine and other drugs.

Major oil companies in Saudi Arabia are also in discussions with Koniku to use the technology to detect benzene, toluene, ethylene and xylene.

“During the refining process of oil and other such chemical compounds, there are compounds that are given off that might be carcinogenic for human beings, that decrease people’s quality of life, make the place smell bad, and so on,” said Agabi.

“This is what we have with Exxon Mobil, for instance, and for methane emissions and for all the compounds that are byproducts from the oil and gas industry that decrease the quality of life in the area we’re working on.”

Koniku has also explored several possibilities for the application of its innovations in oil exploration. “Think about our technology as a ‘smell cyborg,’ similar to a camera on your phone, for security, for filming or vision,” Agabi said.

“You can use this ‘smell cyborg’ for many more applications across the whole spectrum. But our strongest application and what our vision aims to bring to this world is diagnosing disease on a global scale.”




Given the healthcare challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the growing commercial interest in home and wearable health tech, Agabi believes there is a ready market for his creation. (AFP)

For Agabi, the pandemic has made it abundantly clear that the world needs a global system for disease surveillance, where abnormal breath signatures, propagation and growth rates can be detected. In doing so, sickness, death and economic damage could be avoided.

“It is an unfortunate crisis that has cost a lot of life and sorrow,” he said.

“But one of the things we can take from this is the need for a global disease surveillance system through which we can assess the health of people in different cities or states.”

In an increasingly interconnected world, Agabi says every individual has the potential to be a bioweapon until proven otherwise. The only way to make that transparency possible is to develop a technology stack that is able to scan people’s health on a global scale.

“That is what Koniku puts itself forward as,” Agabi said. “That’s what we seek partnerships on. But that is our larger vision, which, with the right partners and resources, we can realize. That’s why I’m very excited to return to the region and form strong partnerships to build this up.”

Twitter: @CalineMalek


Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 25 January 2022

Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lawyer and activist Elham Saudi condemned “weak” vetting that resulted in candidates implicated in corruption and crimes against humanity being cleared to stand
  • US envoy highlighted concerns about deteriorating human rights situation in the country and continuing reports of violence and abuse targeting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees

NEW YORK: Mediators need to take into account the lessons learned in Libya in the past two years and focus on “creating milestones” for the country’s political transition, rather than fixating on the time frame involved, according to Elham Saudi, co-founder and director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya.

These milestones include an electoral law, a code for conducting elections, and a solid constitutional basis “that appropriately sequences presidential and legislative elections in line with the broader road map to complete (the) transition effectively,” he said.

Addressing the UN Security Council on Monday during its regular meeting about developments in Libya, Saudi said that when these steps are implemented, elections will naturally follow and will be “far easier to manage, protect and successfully deliver.”

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” She said this month that “it is possible, and needed, to have elections before the end of June.”

However, Saudi said that “focusing on the dates for the elections instead of a clear process to facilitate them risks once again compromising due process for the sake of perceived political expediency.”

Growing polarization among political powers in the country and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process — including shortcomings in the legal framework for the elections, contradictory court rulings on candidacies, and political and security concerns as cited by the High National commission for Elections — resulted in the postponement of the elections, which had been scheduled to take place on Dec. 24 last year.

Saudi reminded members of the Security Council that “accountability is a prerequisite to political progress. Poorly defined and fundamentally weak vetting criteria applied to candidates applying for elections resulted in individuals implicated in corruption or crimes against humanity and human rights violations, including persons who have been indicted by the ICC (International Criminal Court), being accepted as candidates.”

Following the postponement of polling in December, Libya’s House of Representatives established a “road map committee” to develop a new path toward national elections. The committee will present its first report for debate on Tuesday in Tripoli.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, welcomed what she described as renewed efforts by Libya’s Presidency Council to advance national reconciliation but lamented the political uncertainty in the run-up to the elections. which she said has “negatively impacted the overall security situation, including in Tripoli, resulting in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates.”

She expressed concern about the human rights situation in Libya, citing “incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation, as well as threats and violence against members of the judiciary involved in proceedings on eligibility of electoral candidates, and against journalists, activists and individuals expressing political views.”

DiCarlo added: “Such incidents are an obstacle to creating a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.”

Taher El-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, told the Security Council that while some people had been surprised by the postponement of elections, it had been widely expected.

“In light of the crisis of trust and the absence of a constitution for the country, or a consensual constitutional rule as advocated by most political forces now, it will be very difficult to conduct these elections successfully because the elections are supposed to be a means of political participation and not a means of predominance and exclusion, and a means to support stability and not an end in itself that may open the way for a new conflict,” he said.

El-Sonni called on the UN to offer more “serious and effective” support to the electoral process and send teams to assess the requirements on the ground.

“This would be a clear message to all about the seriousness of the international community in achieving elections that everyone aspires to, without questioning it or its results,” he said.

The Libyan envoy invited the council to “actively contribute” to the processes of national reconciliation and transitional justice, “two concomitant and essential tracks that have unfortunately been lost during the past years, although they are the main basis for the success of any political solution that leads to the stability of the country.”

He also once again called on the African Union to support his country’s efforts in this area.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, senior advisor for special political affairs to the US mission at the UN, said it is time for the wishes of the millions of Libyans who have registered to vote to be respected.

“It is time to move beyond backroom deals between a small circle of powerful individuals backed by armed groups, carving up spoils and protecting their positions,” he said “The Libyan people are ready to decide their own future.

“Those vying to lead Libya must see that the Libyan people will only accept leadership empowered by elections and that they will only tolerate so much delay.”

Like many other ambassadors at the meeting, DeLaurentis also addressed the migrant crisis and reports of violence and abuses directed at migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Libya.

“Libyan authorities must close illicit detention centers, end arbitrary detention practices and permit unhindered humanitarian access to affected populations,” he said.


Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
Updated 25 January 2022

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
  • More than 50 Houthis killed in operations targeting Marib and Al-Bayda

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Monday that it had began “military operations” against “legitimate targets” in the capital, Sanaa, Saudi state TV reported.
The coalition said the operation is in response to threats and out of military necessity to protect civilians from hostile attacks.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched missiles toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier on Monday, sparking widespread condemnation from the international community.
Meanwhile, the coalition said it carried out 14 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib and Al-Bayda during the past 24 hours, killing more than 50 fighters and destroying nine military vehicles.


US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
Updated 25 January 2022

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
  • The comments came after Iran said it will consider direct talks with the US during ongoing negotiations in Vienna

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Monday repeated that it remains open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues after Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran would consider this but had made no decisions.
Speaking at a briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price also said the US had not made Iran’s releasing four Americans a condition of reaching an agreement for both nations to resume compliance with the nuclear deal, saying that achieving such an agreement was an uncertain proposition.
Earlier on Monday, the State Department said the US was prepared to hold direct talks with Iran after Tehran said it would consider such an option.
“We are prepared to meet directly,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.
The spokesperson said that meeting directly would allow “more efficient communication” needed to reach an understanding on what is needed to resuscitate the 2015 deal.
“Given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the official said.
The comments came after Iran said Monday it will consider direct talks with the United States during ongoing negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring the deal.
“Iran is not currently talking with the US directly,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in televised remarks.
“But, if during the negotiation process we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule,” he added.
(With AFP and Reuters)


‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
Updated 24 January 2022

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
  • ‘No one should have to live in these conditions,’ Mark Cutts tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • Nearly 3m people internally displaced in northern Syria, most of them women and children

LONDON: Brutal winter conditions in northern Syria have ushered in mass-scale suffering for 2.8 million internally displaced persons, a top UN humanitarian official warned on Monday.

“We’re extremely concerned about the situation there,” Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said in a briefing attended by Arab News.

The IDPs, he added, are “some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” the majority of them living in temporary camps and tents.

“During this extremely cold weather, we’ve seen some real horror scenes in the last few days — about 1,000 tents have either collapsed completely or been very badly damaged as a result of heavy snow,” said Cutts, adding that temperatures have dropped to as low as -7 degrees centigrade.

About 100,000 people have been affected by the heavy snow, while 150,000 more have been affected by freezing conditions and heavy rain.

“These are people who’ve been through a lot in the past few years. They’ve fled from one place to another. The bombs have followed them. Many of the hospitals and schools in northwest Syria have been destroyed in the 10 years of war,” said Cutts, adding that what he and his team are seeing in camps now is a “real disaster zone.”

He said: “Our humanitarian workers have been pulling people out from under their collapsed tents … They’ve been clearing snow from tents with their bare hands.”

Children, the elderly and the disabled are suffering the most from the conditions, added Cutts, who appealed to the international community to “do more, to recognize the scale of the crisis, to help us get these people out of tents and into safer, more dignified temporary shelter.”

In a final plea, he said: “It’s absolutely unacceptable that you’ve got 1.7 million people living in camps in these appalling conditions — most of them are women and children and elderly people.

“These civilians are stranded in a warzone, and now, on top of that, they’re dealing with temperatures below zero. No one should have to live in these conditions.”


Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal
Updated 24 January 2022

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Tehran on Monday said it is “possible” to reach an agreement on the two issues of Iran-US prisoners’ release and the Vienna talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

“They are two different paths, but if the other party (the US) has the determination, there is the possibility that we reach a reliable and lasting agreement in both of them in the shortest time,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said during his weekly press conference.

Khatibzadeh’s comments came in reaction to remarks made by the US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, who on Sunday said it is unlikely that Washington would strike an agreement unless Tehran releases four US citizens.

BACKGROUND

The four US citizens held in Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, and businessman Emad Sharqi, 57.

“Iran has not accepted any precondition from day one of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh said.

He added that “the negotiations are complicated enough, and should not get more complex with complicated remarks.”