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


UN warned its credibility is at stake over the Palestinian question

UN warned its credibility is at stake over the Palestinian question
Updated 16 sec ago

UN warned its credibility is at stake over the Palestinian question

UN warned its credibility is at stake over the Palestinian question
  • General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid reiterated that a two-state solution is the only way forward and said ‘we cannot give up hope’
  • His comments came days after the 74 th anniversary of Resolution 181, which called for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states

NEW YORK: There is more at stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than peace and security in the Middle East, according to Abdulla Shahid, the president of the UN General Assembly.

The reputation of the global community and its ability to work together to resolve international disputes, in keeping with the founding vision of the UN, is also on the line, he warned.

“That is why we cannot give up hope,” said Shahid as he calling on member states to make every effort to join forces to resolve the conflict in line with international human rights and humanitarian laws, and the UN charter.

“We must maintain the credibility of this great institution and push for positive dialogue and engagement between the parties involved.”

Speaking on Wednesday during a plenary meeting of the General Assembly to discuss the Palestinian question and the situation in the wider Middle East, Shahid described as “disheartening” the lack of progress on an issue that has been on the UN agenda since the organization’s earliest years.

The situations in Palestine and the wider region are “deeply intertwined,” he said.

“We have seen time and time again how the spillover effects of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute undermine the stability of the broader region,” he added.

“As long as the Palestinian people are deprived of statehood, as long as illegal settlements continue to be built on land that Palestinians are justly entitled to, as long as Palestinian families are forced to flee the violence and injustices against them and they cannot return home, anger and bitterness will fester.

“This will contribute to a cycle of violence that has gone on for far, far too long.”

The plenary session came days after the 74th anniversary of resolution 181, which was passed by the General Assembly on Nov. 29, 1947. It called for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, with the city of Jerusalem a separate entity to be governed by an international regime.

Facilitating a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders is the “most important thing” the world can do to help resolve the conflict, said Shahid, who called for an acceleration of the multilateral political process to find a just and peaceful settlement.

Turning to key issues affecting Palestinians, he said it is time for the international community to back its words with actions in terms of humanitarian assistance, support for efforts to resolve the conflict, and upholding the dignity of Palestinians.

“Year after year we speak of the appalling humanitarian crisis in Palestine, especially the Gaza strip,” Shahid said. “But words are insufficient. Words cannot substitute for the lack of running water, electricity, proper sanitation, and decent living conditions that millions of Palestinians endure.

“Words can express how COVID-19 has exacerbated these challenges but they cannot resolve them. Words cannot save Palestinian people suffering from decades of occupation, arbitrary arrests and the use of excessive force against them. Words cannot restore their demolished homes or halt the proliferation of illegal settlements on their land.”

More than half of the five million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive. That number rises to 80 percent in Gaza, where residents “cry out for access to even basic amenities and services,”  Shahid said.

The many Palestinian refugees across the Middle East are also in jeopardy, he added, highlighting the large shortfall in funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. He called on the international community to ensure it provides enough financial support to maintain the life-saving work of the agency.

“Let us all come together as an international community and reiterate our commitment to protect the rights of the Palestinian people,” said Shahid.

“Let us grant them what they have been justly demanding for so long: dignity, statehood and respect.”


Israel, Turkey should restore ambassadorial links: Foreign policy expert

Israel, Turkey should restore ambassadorial links: Foreign policy expert
Updated 8 min 38 sec ago

Israel, Turkey should restore ambassadorial links: Foreign policy expert

Israel, Turkey should restore ambassadorial links: Foreign policy expert

ANKARA: Israel and Turkey should restore ambassadorial links as part of efforts to reduce tensions between the two countries, a leading regional foreign policy expert has told Arab News.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently hinted that an impending detente with Israel could be next on his rapprochement agenda with countries in the region, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
Such a move would reflect a general pattern currently being followed in the Middle East with nations trying to de-escalate tensions and diversify relations.
Dr. Nimrod Goren, president and founder of Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the restoration of ambassadorial-level ties was now a feasible foreign policy goal for Israel and Turkey.
“The leaders of both countries should not let this opportunity go by unfulfilled and should seek to translate the positive vibe in relations into tangible actions,” he added.
Earlier this month, an Israeli couple, both bus drivers, were detained for a week in Turkey on political and military espionage charges after being arrested for photographing Erdogan’s residence in Istanbul.
Their release and return to Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s public thanks to Erdogan for his personal involvement in resolving the incident were seen as the extension of an olive branch to prevent an escalation of the crisis.
Goren said: “The positive manner in which the incident of the Israeli couple’s detention in Istanbul ended creates a window of opportunity beyond the window that already opened up when the new Israeli government took office and after the recent call between Erdogan and (new Israeli President Isaac) Herzog.
“The efforts to resolve the incident exemplified that both countries can work together to resolve tensions. It increased mutual trust, strengthened existing channels, and led to initial and much-needed direct communication between Erdogan and Bennett.”
In a recent interview with Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, Israel’s Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz, said: “There is potential for a relative improvement in Israel Turkey ties, more than there was two weeks ago, and I think we need to examine it exhaustively.”
Dr. Selin Nasi, London representative of the Ankara Policy Center and a respected researcher on Turkish Israeli relations, told Arab News: “Turkey and Israel, as two of the three non-Arab countries in the region, have a lot to gain from cooperation in various areas, be it trade relations, intelligence sharing, energy cooperation, or defense.
“Indeed, the two countries have succeeded in compartmentalizing bilateral relations and bilateral trade has continued to grow in the last decade despite political disputes.”
The foreign trade volume between Turkey and Israel was $6.2 billion last year.
The looming threat of Iran becoming armed with nuclear weapons had also incentivized the need for security cooperation, Nasi said.
On Nov. 18, Erdogan had a rare phone call with his Israeli counterpart Herzog and emphasized that continued dialogue between the two nations would be “mutually beneficial.”
Nasi added: “From Ankara’s perspective, anti-Israeli rhetoric might have served its purpose in the domestic political sphere but is no longer deemed useful in mobilizing the constituency.”
Instead, she pointed out that a positive narrative based on “Turkey gaining back its soft power through a number of reconciliatory steps taken to mend broken ties with countries in the region” may prove more useful in the upcoming elections.
She noted that improved relations between Turkey and Israel would pave the way for Ankara to get involved, either directly or indirectly, in the US-backed strategic partnership network that had been increasingly consolidated in the Eastern Mediterranean over the last decade.
“Ankara wants to gain back some of the ground lost to her regional competitors — Greece and Egypt — and therefore aims to repudiate multilateral treaties and redraw maritime boundaries according to her strategic interests,” Nasi said.
Israel, she added, had always been a significant facilitator for friendly ties between Ankara and Washington.
“Maintaining cordial relations with Israel also enables Turkey to play a more active and constructive role in the Palestinian issue, raising living standards for the Palestinians.
“Because of her unique geopolitical position bordering Syria and Iran, along with her being a NATO member, Turkey will remain as an important actor and an ally for Israel. This explains why Israel has left the door open for dialogue with Ankara, and welcomed reconciliatory steps in this regard, despite having reservations,” Nasi said.
Meanwhile, Israel has urged Turkey to close all offices and ban the activities of Hamas in the country after a Nov. 21 terror attack in Jerusalem carried out by a Hamas member affiliated with Turkey.
Nasi pointed out that any progress on the normalization of Turkish Israeli relations would depend on Ankara’s sincerity and consistency in seeking reconciliation with Israel.
“There is potential for cooperation, but building mutual trust is essential in moving forward. And in terms of building resilient bilateral ties, the two countries need to develop cooperation on the basis of shared interests in a pragmatic manner, preventing the Palestinian issue solely dominating the agenda,” she added.
Goren said: “Senior Israeli ministers still expect Turkey to prove its goodwill and positive intentions, especially by limiting Hamas’ activities in Turkey. But a Turkish decision to send an ambassador to Israel, will most likely be welcomed, and will be reciprocated with a similar Israeli move.”
He noted that such an upgrade of ties would enable both countries to launch a strategic dialogue on regional affairs, improve bilateral economic and civilian cooperation, promote Turkish involvement in the Palestinian issue, and increase Israeli engagement with the Muslim world.
“If done within a context of a Turkish rapprochement with Egypt and the UAE, the potential will even be bigger. It will soften tensions in the region, broaden the space for dialogue and cooperation, and lessen Israeli concerns that advancing ties with Turkey might jeopardize other regional alliances,” he added.


Lebanon relaunches support programs for the vulnerable

Lebanon relaunches support programs for the vulnerable
Updated 8 min 7 sec ago

Lebanon relaunches support programs for the vulnerable

Lebanon relaunches support programs for the vulnerable
  • Beneficiaries will be selected according to transparent criteria ‘to secure the basic requirements for a decent life’

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced on Wednesday the launch of the ration card platform and the emergency social safety net project.
Funded and supported by the World Bank and the UN, the programs are intended to help the most vulnerable in Lebanon.
The ration card platform had faltered after it was announced by Hassan Diab’s resigned government on Sept. 9 due to funding issues and objections by the World Bank.
The platform was supposed to be up before subsidies on fuel were lifted to limit protests.
In his announcement, Mikati addressed the obstruction of Cabinet sessions since Oct. 12: “If some people have the right to revolt in the street and get angry, then those who were and still are in power have no right to shirk responsibility and blame those who are currently trying to fight to save the country.”
He noted that during the diplomatic meetings he held in the country and overseas, one expression was constantly repeated: “Help yourselves, and we will help you.” If anything, this indicates the extent of the responsibility of all Lebanese officials and leaders to cooperate for Lebanon to move forward, he explained.
Mikati noted: “The beneficiaries of the two projects will be selected according to transparent criteria to secure the basic requirements for a decent life. The two-month registration phase will be closely monitored to prevent any exploitation, after which the payment process will begin early next year with a retroactive effect from January 2022.”
According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, 25 percent of Lebanese suffer from extreme poverty, while 70 percent are struggling to make ends meet, with the middle class almost becoming extinct amid Lebanon’s economic and financial collapse.
The ministry is currently assisting 36,000 families suffering from extreme poverty by giving them a $25 food card and a further $15 for each family member. The children of these families are enrolled in public schools and receive free primary healthcare, thanks to EU funding. The ministry aims to start supporting 75,000 families.
“In the first phase, we will start implementing the social safety net program, which covers 150,000 Lebanese families and 87,000 children enrolled in public schools,” said Minister of Social Affairs Hector Hajjar.
He added: “These programs are not the solution; they are rather temporary support to help citizens survive until economic recovery is initiated.”
Mikati said that he had issued a decision “to form a technical committee to review the security and cyber aspects of the IMPACT platform and its subsidiary webpages, headed by the minister of interior, to prevent any data manipulation and ensure user privacy.”
Hajjar expected around 20,000 people to register on the platform daily.
More families are falling under the poverty line in Lebanon, a World Bank report revealed.
The share of the Lebanese population under the international poverty line is estimated to have risen by 13 percentage points in 2020 and is expected to further increase by as much as 28 percentage points by the end of 2021; amounting to 1.5 million Lebanese.
Meanwhile, 780,000 Syrian refugees are under the poverty line, and their share is estimated to have risen by 39 percentage points in 2020 and 52 percentage points in 2021.
The report also tackled the successive financial crises that have afflicted Lebanon, noting that “the Lebanese government’s hands are tied in terms of providing social assistance to citizens and residents alike.”
International institutions fear further repercussions as Lebanon is being assailed by compounded crises for the third year in a row, which may lead to widespread chaos and disturb the fragile security stability, especially in light of the significant rise in the prices of goods, fuel, transportation, medicine, electricity from generators, and other daily life necessities.
“Radical reforms are essential to achieve recovery and social protection programs are very helpful in mitigating the impact of multiple crises,” the World Bank said.


Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures

Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures
Updated 01 December 2021

Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures

Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures
  • Mandatory vaccinations for all civil servants and workers in the health, education, tourism and public transport sectors

BEIRUT: Lebanon will impose a night-time curfew starting Dec. 17 on non-vaccinated people for three weeks.
And full vaccination will be made mandatory for all workers in several sectors due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus, the COVID-19 committee said on Wednesday.
Vaccination will be mandatory for all civil servants and workers in the health, education, tourism and public transport sectors as of Jan. 10, the committee said.
A new coronavirus variant found in South Africa and detected in several countries was determined as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization last week and has led to strengthening COVID-19-related restrictions around the world.


Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO

Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO
Updated 01 December 2021

Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO

Vaccine coverage below 10 percent in seven eastern Mediterranean nations — WHO
  • Low-income countries, mostly in Africa, have received only 0.6% of the world's vaccines
  • "The longer that these inequities persist, the greater the chance of more variants,” said WHO’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean

CAIRO: An official at the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office said on Wednesday seven countries in the region have not yet reached a threshold of 10 percent vaccination coverage.
These countries represent a high-risk setting for the emergence of further variants, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said at a news briefing in Cairo.
Low-income countries, mostly in Africa, have received only 0.6 percent of the world’s vaccines, while G20 countries have received more than 80 percent, Al-Mandhari said.
“The longer that these inequities persist, the greater the chance of more variants,” said Al-Mandhari. “Indeed, no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
So far, 24 countries may have reported cases of the new Omicron variant, said Abdinasir Abubakr, infection hazards prevention manager for the region.
Early Omicron cases suggest mild symptoms, added Richard Brennen, WHO regional emergency director in the region.
In terms of the response to the variant, he warned of complacency and COVID-19 fatigue and encouraged social-distancing measures.
However, he said social and travel curbs require risk assessment before implementation.
“While we understand that some countries locked down international travel, this has to be done on evidence and strong analysis,” said Brennen.
As of Nov. 29, over 16.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 309,500 deaths were reported across the Eastern Mediterranean region.