I suppose most of us have spent their childhood playing around with a toy called the whirlgig. I have a figure below-

As a child I had a great craze of collecting as many as I could from chips packets. But did you imagine that this little toy can be used to look out for several diseases like malaria
,anaemia and many more?
Recently I came across an invention that uses this same paper toy as a life saving tool.So lets dive into the story behind making this device.

A scientist from the Stanford University, Manu Prakash back in 2013 was in a small village in Uganda. When he visited one of the clinics to study a sample culture
of a disease schistosomiasis under a centrifugal machine, he was shocked that the machine lied there as a doorstop. The reasons were quite clear, in a village like theirs where electricity was out of question people usually thought of such devices as junk. He came back to his lab and thought of a solution, experimented on several spinning toys including yo-yos and tops and finally got hand on the whirlgig. He and his postdoc labmate worked on the dynamics of the toy and came up with a 10 page long paper that explained the complete dynamics of the toy.
They probably had found an alternative to the centrifugal devices that were bulky,costly and most importantly electrically powered. They named their discovery as ‘Paperfuge’.

The paperfuge is driven mechanically and produces an astonishing revolving speeds of 1,20,000rpm or saying otherwise a 30,000g force. You probably would think of the forces
that you may feel if you are stuck on a paperfuge. With such enormous amount of force it makes it very easy to separate out the blood cells from the plasma. This on field device
can later be taken to the lab and studied. Now how do we study for diseases?

fig2fig 2

The separated blood can be studied based on the levels of blood plasma.A low blood cells to plasma ratio is an indicator for anameia. They have a malaria detecting fuge that is to be spinned for longer durations to detect malarial pathogens.
From lab-based trials, they found that malaria parasites could be separated from red blood cells in 15 minutes. And by spinning the sample in a capillary precoated with acridine orange dye, glowing malaria parasites could be identified by simply placing the capillary under a microscope. In the case of the infected blood, heavy red cells collect at the bottom of the tube, watery plasma floats to the top, and parasites, like those that cause malaria, settle in the middle.

Coming to the cost effectiveness this device costs only about 20 cents for the material used which is probably less than a cup of coffee.
Thanks to this device we can probably see better,cheap and time efficient medical treatments in the future!

Further Reading-

Image sources: Google.

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Shoubhik Banerjee

IISER Bhopal.




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