Paperfuge – Portable and Cheap Device for Diagnosing Anemia

Commercial devices that are used for the diagnosis of anemia are expensive and bulky. Scientists have developed a very low cost (20 cents) and light (2 grams) device known as ‘paperfuge’ that is designed based on the theoretical model of a 5,000 years old ancient toy known as the whirligig.

Whirligig is an ancient pinwheel-like toy whose circular motion is made possible using two twisting strings. The paperfuge is made using the same concept that represents a major breakthrough in the modern scientific world. It can separate the blood quickly similar to some of the commercial centrifuges – medical devices used in diagnosing the anemia.

Apart from diagnosing blood disorders, the device can also prove useful in diagnosing malaria and HIV diseases.

The revolutionary device consists of nothing more than a string, paper, and glue. The simple model of the device allows it to be made at a much less cost as compared to the traditional centrifuges, which costs hundreds to thousands of dollars.

When the device is given the green light by the regulatory authorities, the paperfuge could prove to be an extremely cheap and convenient alternative to the commercial devices.

The traditional centrifuges consist of rapidly spinning machines that can cost up to $6,000. The device is not always within the reach of poor regions of the world. Some of the regions don’t have the electricity to keep the system running.

In the past, scientists had tried different types of human-powered devices including salad spinners and egg beaters. But they did not even come close to the speed of even the low-end centrifuges, which can spin for more than 100,000 revolutions per minute (rpm).

A team led by bioengineer Manu Prakash of the Stanford University of Pao Alto had decided to take a systematic approach to inventing a cheap device that could diagnose anemia in patients. The team examined different spinning toys including yo-yos, tops, and gyroscopic wrist exercises. They then used a high-speed camera to measure the speed. They discovered that the whirligig that twisted the strings into clumped coils was able to achieve the required speed. Over the course of the study, the team had optimized the toy to create a prototype that worked by pulling the sticks that are attached by strings to a paper disk holding tiny tubes of blood. The repeated winding and unwinding of the strings allowed rotational speeds of up to 120,000 rpm. The device successfully reduced the plasma from the blood samples in less than 1.5 minutes.

While the paperfuge has shown promising results during the course of the study, the real test will come during the testing conducted by the regulatory authorities. Once it is approved, the device can greatly help in reducing the medical costs of diagnosing anemia, and a host other blood-related maladies.

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