Twenty Cent Device can Replace Thousand Dollar Centrifuge
I have a new passion for something called “The Frugal Science Movement”. The name is coined by Manu Prakash, a biochemist with his own laboratory at Stanford University. The purpose of Frugal Science is to devise low-cost solutions for complex technologies.
Prakash is the developer of the PaperScope which is a one dollar microscope consisting of a few lenses and one piece of paper that can be used to accurately identify diseases such as malaria as well as a ten thousand dollar microscope.
He and his lab team are now responsible for inventing a hand held device called a Paperfuge that unbelievably costs only twenty cents and operates just as efficiently as a traditional centrifuge which sells for at least a thousand bucks and doesn’t operate without electricity. Centrifuges are incredibly important in the medical field to diagnose infections such as HIV and malaria. They operate by spinning super fast and separating biological materials such as blood.
The Paperfuge mimics the workings of a traditional centrifuge – but its cheap price tag of twenty cents – will make it affordable to medical clinics in third world countries . . . changing the lives of millions of people who suffer from diseases that need accurate diagnoses in order to be properly treated but lack a traditional centrifuge to make the diagnosis.
What’s fun about the Paperfuge is that Prakash was inspired to invent it with a gift his wife gave him called a whirligig or a button spinner. He and his researchers have used the technology behind this ancient toy to create their Paperfuge device. The whirligig is an uncomplicated child’s toy that consists of a button or disk threaded through two strings that are affixed to handles. A child plays with the toy by winding the strings and then pulling on the handles to make the threads unwind and the button spin. Pulling and relaxing the strings repeatedly makes the button spin fast.
After analyzing how exactly the whirligig works and how fast it spins, Prakash created a similar device that could hold a blood sample, separate it, and basically work as a centrifuge. In fact, the Paperfuge can spin blood at about 20,000 revolutions per minute — a speed comparable to that of traditional centrifuges. Because it costs only 20 cents to make and needs no electricity, the Paperfuge could easily be used in developing countries. The invention was described in a study published today in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
Prakash says “There is a value in this whimsical nature of searching for solutions, because it really forces us outside our own sets of constraints about what a product should actually look like.” The team has just returned from field tests in Madagascar, where they tested the device and checked in with local caregivers. Up next will be more formal clinical trials of the Paperfuge’s already demonstrated ability to separate malaria parasites from blood for analysis.