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. It allows 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. It's based on an unusual source of inspiration. That is the whirligig.
 
"There are more than a billion people around the world who have no infrastructure. No roads. No electricity," says Manu Prakash. He is a physical biologist at Stanford. He is the 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. They examined 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 was the Paperfuge. It spins at 125,000 rpm. That's equal to 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. This acts 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. 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 it needs to be examined by a microscope. Luckily, several years ago Prakash also created the Foldscope. It is a $1 paper microscope. It has optical quality similar to conventional microscopes. It will begin distribution in 2018.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can a microscope only cost $1?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (71)
  • alant-
    5/05/2017 - 08:38 a.m.

    Its because you can just find a microscope any where for just $1 its not that hard if you look around.

  • judea-buh
    5/05/2017 - 10:50 a.m.

    This is very interesting. I wonder if any specific children's toy would help, or is it one toy? But it's very interesting and I hope we can here more about it.

  • samanthas-1-ste
    5/05/2017 - 12:59 p.m.

    The microscope is paper so it is really cheap. I think that is really cool and amazing how something so simple could help solve something big.

  • hayleel-ste
    5/05/2017 - 01:03 p.m.

    That's odd to think, I would never think a simple toy could do anything close to that.

  • dominickc-kut
    5/07/2017 - 08:27 p.m.

    The microscope could cost only 1$ because it is made of paper. Another part that it probably has is a plastic optical allowing you to see pretty clearly. That is possibly why the foldscope costs 1$.

  • christopherb-kut
    5/07/2017 - 09:02 p.m.

    Acording to the articular the microscope was made out of paper and paper is cheap

  • jeremyj-orv
    5/07/2017 - 10:19 p.m.

    Great, that's amazing that a toy will help you fight a virus

  • braedonh-kut
    5/08/2017 - 07:48 a.m.

    I think a way of making a 1 dollar microscope is folding a piece of paper to make a small whole in the middle to focus on one point in the sky.

  • vivienb-kut
    5/08/2017 - 07:53 a.m.

    A PAPER MICROSCOPE!!! WOW!

  • willv-kut
    5/08/2017 - 07:56 a.m.

    This is a good idea because many people struggle from it, this shows how we as humans can solve anything. I think this is just the start we are gonna start figuring out diseases.

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