How a children's toy could help fight malaria Manu Prakesh spins his Paperfuge. (Stanford University/Kurt Hickman/Food and Drug Administration )
How a children's toy could help fight malaria
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One of the most basic and necessary pieces of equipment in medical labs is a centrifuge. Often bulky and expensive, this device (in the most simple terms) spins things. And spinning things like blood can separate out its components, allowing doctors to diagnose diseases like malaria. But the lack of electricity and resources in rural regions around the world means no centrifuge. Now, a simple new 20-cent gadget could change all that, and it's based on an unusual source of inspiration: the whirligig.
 
"There are more than a billion people around the world who have no infrastructure, no roads, no electricity," says Manu Prakash, a physical biologist at Stanford and inventor of the new gadget. When he visited Uganda in 2013 he found that clinics either did not have centrifuges or didn't have the juice to power them. "One clinic used its broken centrifuge as a doorstop," Prakash tells Devin Powell at Nature.
 
"I realized that if we wanted to solve a critical problem like malaria diagnosis, we needed to design a human-powered centrifuge that costs less than a cup of coffee," Prakash says in a press release.
 
When he returned to Stanford, Prakash began brainstorming ideas with one of his post-docs, Saad Bhamla, examining all sorts of spinning things, reports Madeline K. Sofia at NPR. They quickly began focusing on old-school, preindustrial toys like yo-yos and whirligigs.
 
"One night I was playing with a button and string, and out of curiosity, I set up a high-speed camera to see how fast a button whirligig would spin. I couldn't believe my eyes," Bhamla says in the press release. The button was rotating at 10,000 to 15,000 rpms.
 
The pair began prototyping small hand-powered centrifuges based on the whirligig principle. Their final model, the Paperfuge, spins at 125,000 rpm, the equivalent of a centrifuge costing $1,000 to $5,000, according to the press release.
 
The Paperfuge is made of a disk of paper coated in a polymer, reports Sofia. The disk is attached to two pieces of wood or PVC pipe via string. When the strings are pulled, the disc in the middle spins, acting as a centrifuge for a blood sample attached to the center of the disk. The team, describes their work in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
 
Prakash and Bhamla recently returned from successful field trials of the Paperfuge in Madagascar where they used it to test for malaria. While the gadget only takes two minutes to separate blood, reports The Economist, it takes 15 minutes of whirligigging for malaria-diagnosing separations.
 
Once the blood is separated, however, it needs to be examined by a microscope. Luckily, several years ago Prakash also created the Foldscope, a $1 paper microscope with optical quality similar to conventional microscopes that will begin distribution in 2018.

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COMMENTS (22)
  • isaiahm-pla
    5/05/2017 - 10:43 a.m.

    This article describes the invention of a sub $1 device that acts as a working blood centrifuge and can greatly impact the ease at which and ability to diagnose Malaria. The article makes this sound extremely recent but I have seen this several times prior and reports back to January 10th can be easily found, so while not exactly, it was still as big a deal as the article makes it out to be. Manu Prakash and Saad Bhamla are responsible for this device and found it to be successful in recent field trials. While not immediately impacting their school, Stanford, or the United States, it will certainly make an impact in the countries that lack the funds or the infrastructure required to have modern medical clinics. This represents civic engagement on a global scale instead of a local one. They will help far more people in far more dire conditions than they could have locally.

  • avad-pla
    5/05/2017 - 11:15 a.m.

    Manu Prakash, a physical biologist at Stanford invented a handheld device that functions the same as a centrifuge in order to provide developing countries the resource to test blood for diseases such as malaria. Through his visit to Uganda, he learned that many clinics could not afford the expensive piece of medical technology or the energy to run them, or the centrifuges were simply broken. Prakash began to examine the issue by attempting to create something handheld and human-powered, but also very inexpensive. Through many trials, he discovered through the use of a high-speed camera that a whirligig rotates between 10,000 and 15,000 rotations per minute. His final model, named the Paperfuge, spins at 125,000 rpm. In comparison to a centrifuge, it takes 15 minutes of spinning in the Paperfuge to be equivalent to two minutes in the centrifuge. Prakash truly epitomizes civic engagement through his creation of the Paperfuge. He set out to solve an issue that others had, with no effect on him. Prakash was motivated to make a difference in the lives of those who had virtually no control of their predicament, and he did so by promoting the qualify of life for those who live in affected areas.

  • nathanm14-ste
    5/05/2017 - 01:56 p.m.

    Okay, so a country that is too poor for roads, electricity and proper buildings, is now able to detect malaria through cheaper but effective means. My question is, once they find out they have malaria, where is the 1$ method to cure it. It's like, "oh look, you're dying. Good luck with that".

  • charlesj-bur
    5/06/2017 - 02:02 p.m.

    I believe that it can cost only a dollar due to the simple fact that it is made up of paper,something that can be ripped easily. I can relate, because I have sold comics for a cheaper price than normal because of the materials that I used.

  • rachelt-pla
    5/06/2017 - 09:09 p.m.

    A centrifuge is a device that through spinning separates blood from its other components in a sample. This device helps doctors to diagnose various disease like Malaria, however in poor countries, where a centrifuge is too expensive or where there is no electricity to run it, doctors have no way of diagnosing disease, especially Malaria. Manu Prakash, a physical biologist at Stanford, created a 20-cent gadget (called The Paperfuge) out of a disk of paper coated in a polymer that is attached to two pieces of wood or PVC pipe with string. While normally a centrifuge only take two minutes to separate blood, the Paperfuge takes 15 minutes of spinning, and then examination by a microscope, which Prakash also created the Foldscope-- a dollar paper microscope with optical quality similar to conventional microscopes. In regards to civic engagement, these two inventions are huge for countries who don't have the money nor electricity to run normal medical equipment. The inventions allow doctors to be able to diagnose disease, especially Malaria more quickly, which allows them to be treated quicker and hopefully more will survive from this disease!

  • brendanw-kut
    5/08/2017 - 01:23 p.m.

    A ever-increasing problem is money. Americas falling into debt, power hungry dictators are trying to get money. People are risking who knows what just to make money. When the government does make money, it is only a little bit compared to the constantly rising costs. This just raises the joy when anybody finds a cheap solution (which seem almost impossible to come across anymore) they get excited and put it rigt to the test. Sometimes the small doubtfulness is right but sometimes a one dollar toy can be a solution to a problem costing lives. Anything is possible. No matter the kind, time, situation, or person you are. There is a solution to make everyone happy. Even if it takes years.

  • kimberlyk-pla
    5/08/2017 - 02:51 p.m.

    I really enjoyed reading this article about a child's toy turned malaria diagnosing machine. The article introduces Manu Prakash, a student at Stanford University who created the paperfuge. Prakash was inspired to create this device after he visited Uganda and found that many clinics could not afford Centrifuge's - a device that separates blood which can then be tested for diseases like Malaria. His paperfuges cost about 20 cents which makes them very affordable. I think that this creation will be very helpful for increasing health worldwide and despite this not personally affecting Prakash, he took the initiative to improve the lives of millions of other people.

  • abigailh-pla
    5/08/2017 - 04:46 p.m.

    This article discusses the importance of centrifuges to the medical industry. The main focus of the article is on the problem that many care facilities in poorer countries do not have access to this type of equipment which is critical in diagnosing harmful diseases such as malaria. Doctors Prakash and Sofia demonstrated their civic engagement by diving into the problem to try to find a way to build a centrifuge that is affordable, yet effective. The resulting product uses a "whirligig" to operate without electricity (another roadblock). This article was interesting to me because a couple of weeks ago in AP bio we did a lab that used centrifuges to identify DNA samples so it was cool to read about the different uses of the tool.

  • ksenyas1-pla
    5/08/2017 - 09:20 p.m.

    This article is very interesting, and is a success story of a physical biologist who had a vision. He discovered that many areas were lacking electricity in order to power centrifuges, and was able to be inspired by a children's toy. Now after his efforts, he created something that is affordable and can run without electricity in countries such as Madagascar. This article proves that dedication and a vision can lead to true success in the world. This relates to civic engagement since medical diseases such as Malaria are extremely serious, and it is essential that everyone should have access to medical care to treat things like this.

  • jacksona-pla
    5/08/2017 - 10:17 p.m.

    This article focuses on two inventions that will help people in developing countries to more effectively fight disease. The first is a centrifuge that can be operated by hand and is much cheaper than a traditional centrifuge. The other is a microscope that somehow costs less than a dollar and is on par with traditional microscopes. Not much is known about the second device because the author chose to dedicate only one sentence to it. If these devices work as advertised, they will be a tremendous help to countries that need them. This relates to our classroom discussion about foreign aid as well because devices like these are things we would pay to send to other countries.

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