How a children's toy could help fight malaria
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
Lexile: 1200L

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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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How can a microscope only cost $1?
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  • brandond-pla
    5/09/2017 - 09:08 a.m.

    This article is about the Paperfuge, a low cost replacement for centrifuges in impoverished areas. The Paperfuge is made of a polymer coated piece of paper that is attached with string to pieces of wood or PVC pipe. It operates similar to a whirligig, doesn't require any electricity and spins at around 125,000 RPM. While it will can separate blood in about two minutes, it takes 15 minutes to be able to conduct Malaria testing on a sample, which is what the device was originally created to combat.

  • brandond-pla
    5/09/2017 - 09:12 a.m.

    Continuation of Previous Comment: This new centrifuge replacement will allow physicians and researchers in impoverished, underdeveloped areas of the world diagnose diseases like Malaria. The creators of the Paperfuge, Manu Prakash and Saad Bhamla, are demonstrating civic engagement on a global scale, helping people without access to modern medicine diagnose and treat common diseases.

  • makenziev-pla
    5/09/2017 - 10:24 a.m.

    This article talks about how malaria is a very big problem in some third world countries and in order to diagnose it, you need a device called a centrifuge used to separate blood. Prakash and Bhamla were able to create a device that does the same thing but at a fraction of the cost, in fact it costs "less than a cup of coffee". This is incredible because it allows third world countries to diagnose malaria and treat people before its too late. This is a good example of civic engagement because Prakash and Bhamla were able to create a device that will change many thousands of people's lives. They saw that there was a problem and came up with a brilliant solution that will help many others.

  • bens-pla
    5/09/2017 - 10:47 a.m.

    This article is about a cheap centrifugal item that could help diagnose malaria. The item's cheap price could provide massive opportunities and potentially save lives in countries where they lack infrastructure. This has to do with civic engagement because the process of creating and selling an item requires a lot of public and private conversation. If I could ask one question it would be "If sold in the U.S, how heavily taxed would the item be?"

  • nickm1-pla
    5/09/2017 - 11:16 a.m.

    A centrifuge is a medical device used to separate components of blood. The instrument is vital in diagnosis of malaria, but is very difficult to run in third world countries because of the resources it takes to power. Two doctors, however, have been conducting successful experiments with paper/plastic constructed, hand cranked centrifuges.

    This articles shows civic engagement by showcasing incredible scientific ingenuity that will benefit citizens. Any medical advances automatically bring civic engagement as they benefit the community in a very direct and real sense.

  • braydeng-atk
    5/09/2017 - 12:56 p.m.

    A microscope can only cost $1 because of the materials it is made of. If it is made of rare metals, it will be more expensive. But, because it is made from paper, a really common resource, it is inexpensive.

  • johnz-pla
    5/09/2017 - 10:46 p.m.

    The Paperfuge was created in response to expensive centrifuges breaking down and becoming unusable in countries with limited health services. Centrifuges are a component of anti-Malaria medicine because they are needed to separate blood samples to test for Malaria. The Paperfuge is hand powered and costs 20 cents, yet produces the same results as a traditional centrifuge. This article connects to civic engagement as the inventor is finding a solution to a real problem while simultaneously bringing attention to the problem of Malaria in poor tropical regions. Rather than just persuade his listeners to take action, Prakash has taken action himself, which in turn inspires action from others.

  • williamb-pla
    5/10/2017 - 09:18 a.m.

    This article describes the creation process of the Paperfuge, which is an extremely cheap, human powered centrifuge designed by a physical biologist at Stanford, Manu Prakash. He has created a relatively easy method for separating blood samples in areas of the world that don't have access to electricity. The average person might not be able to create a centrifuge out of a child's toy, but they can still help by donating to non-profit organizations. These organizations conduct relief efforts in poor countries, bringing food and water to people who might not be able to get it otherwise.

  • nicoler1-pla
    5/10/2017 - 10:35 a.m.

    In this article, Daley describes how two scientists,Manu Prakash and Saad Bhamla created a cheaper version of a centrifuge that could be used in rural, less developed areas. Centrifuges spin and separate blood, and are a critical part of diagnosing malaria. The invention of Prakash and Bhamla's "Paperfuge" will hopefully save lives in areas where people do not have as much access to medical care, such as people in Madagascar. I thought this article was interesting because I like learning about new medical improvements. This connects to civic engagement because disease affects all people, no matter where they live. third world countries fall short of the medical care we have here in the U.S.. I believe it is important that America and other more developed countries do all they can to help them improve levels of care in rural areas, at a price they can afford.

  • keasiak-bur
    5/10/2017 - 06:28 p.m.

    A microscope can only cost 1 dollar because you can just use paper. To me microscopes can only be a dollar because they are tiny and you can find them at the dollar store.

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