BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Many poor places around the world have a lower life expectancy mainly because they cannot afford proper medical equipment. One good example of indispensable medical technology is made up by centrifuges that require a lot of resources in order to function. There is still hope, since a team of researchers found an innovative and effective way to replace centrifuges.
The study was published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering and made public the revolutionary device they have designed. It is a hand-powered centrifuge whose technology is based on an ancient toy. The lead researcher, Manu Prakash, also an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, stated that the handmade centrifuge can function like an electric-powered one, being able to spin at high speeds and separate the particles and cells found in human blood to obtain an accurate diagnostic.
Prakash is member of an alternative science movement that is trying to devise replacements for complex technologies by using household items. For the creation of the centrifuge, they formerly analyzed the solution of egg beaters or salad spinners, but the results were inefficient. These tools took more than 10 minutes to separate blood cells, as compared to 2 minutes for a modern centrifuge. Therefore, researchers moved their attention to spinning toys.
The best results were achieved by the whirligig, an ancient toy made up by a disk having two handled threads of string going through it. The disk is made to spin by winding the threads and then pulling on the handles. The disk spins faster by continuously pulling and relaxing the strings. The toy is also known as buzzer, or spinning disk.
They succeeded in achieving the fastest speeds ever recorded for a hand-powered device, of up to 125,000 revolutions per minute (RPM). They even issued an application to Guinness World Record.
In order to use the whirligig as a centrifuge, they modified it using a paper disk and a fishing wire. They called the new invention “paperfuge”. After tests were performed, they found that the handmade centrifuge scored better than the standard one.
For a better understanding of the movement the paperfuge creates and an optimization of possible diagnostics, Prakash and his team of scientists issued a mathematical generation of the movement. Moreover, it is not unidirectional like the usual centrifuges, but oscillatory, with the disk spinning back and forth.
They have already offered 100 paperfuges to health care workers in Madagascar and are currently working on optimizations on the technology for other diagnostic tests.
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