Stanford Lab Continues Development of Low-Cost Healthcare Tools

Manu Prakash talks about his paper centrifuge and the idea that frugal science will bring useful healthcare tools to the entire world.

Manu Prakash is on a continuing mission to make affordable and sustainable tools for global health applications. In his Ted Talk Lifesaving scientific tools made of paper he begins the discussion with a memory of his first tool, a microscope made with lenses stolen from his brother’s eyeglasses.

Prakash likes to call his body of work ‘frugal science’ and seeks to share the experience of scientific discovery with the world instead of just sending the information. He cites the fact that one billion people have no access to roads, electricity or healthcare. Further there are a billion kids that live in poverty. Health care workers don’t have the tools or funding to combat the health issues facing remote and poverty stricken children.

The bulk of this talk centers around the ideas and development of the Paperfuge, a tool for separating blood samples. After finding inspiration from a child’s toy Prakash and his team developed equations to model the toy’s behavior. The paper spinning toy acts as a counter-rotating centrifuge and after thirty seconds of demonstration he shows how blood cells from plasma, and checking the ratio of blood to plasma can tell whether a patient is anemic.

In his Stanford lab over a two year period 50,000 origami microscopes were built and shipped to schools all over the world. The goal for the end of year 2017 is to have shipped 1,000,000 microscopes to students in more than 130 countries. Manu also discusses Abuzz, a new system for taking citizen scientist data from mosquito and map mosquito species to track human pathogens.

Manu Prakash is a great speaker full of energy and ambition, with a full catalog of cases where his microscope is already making a difference around the world. He ends his talk with the promise that science will someday be accessible to the billion people who can’t currently afford it, and the idea that science and scientific literacy are human rights. We’ve previously covered his microscope and centrifuge projects here, and it’s great to get a chance to hear him explain his overall goals and go a little deeper on his newer projects.