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Folding paper microscope could reduce deaths from malaria

By

March 11, 2014

The Foldscope is made mostly of cardstock, and can be shipped flat-packed

The Foldscope is made mostly of cardstock, and can be shipped flat-packed

According to the World Health Organization, there were approximately 207 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2012, 627,000 of which proved fatal. Unfortunately, the disease most often occurs in developing nations, where diagnostic equipment may not be available. This means that doctors can't determine the particular strain of malaria from which a patient is suffering, and thus don't know which medication will work best. Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of bioengineering at the Stanford School of Medicine, hopes to change that ... using his disposable folding paper microscope.

Known as the Foldscope, the device can be assembled on site by the user in just a few minutes, from flat-packed components. It's made almost entirely of cardstock paper, with the exception of its poppy seed-sized spherical lens. The lenses are in fact actually a type of abrasive grit, used to round off the rough edges of metal parts.

Materials-wise, each microscope is worth about 50 cents. Using them is fairly simple – as Stanford describes it:

"A sample is mounted on a microscope slide and wedged between the paper layers of the microscope. With a thumb and forefinger grasping each end of the layered paper strip, a user holds the micro-lens close enough to one eye that eyebrows touch the paper. Focusing and locating a target object are achieved by flexing and sliding the paper platform with the thumb and fingers. Because of the unique optical physics of a spherical lens held close to the eye, samples can be magnified up to 2,000 times."

Additionally, stains can be added to samples to detect specific organisms, plus a watch battery-powered LED can be added to project images onto a wall.

Not only is the Foldscope dirt cheap and user-friendly, but it's also very rugged, and can simply be incinerated (along with the biological sample in it) after one use. Along with its use in diagnosing blood-borne diseases such as malaria, Prakash hopes that it could also be utilized in educational programs, to inspire children to become scientists.

The Foldscope can be seen in use in the video below.

Source: Stanford University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
11 Comments

This is brilliant, has a ton of uses, the main one being as described in the article and video, diagnosing illness on the cheap in developing countries, but this could also be used by scientists in pretty much all fields that use microscopes in a lab, you could use these out in the field without having to take the samples back to a lab to see what you got, doctors doing home visits could take samples and look at them right away for answers.

This could be used for educational purposes, in middle and high school's all over the country, on field trips they are cheap enough every child could have their own, if they were dropped on the ground and were lost they will biodegrade. By the looks of it they had developed a water proof version in the video, probably with very little added cost, so these could also be used underwater in micro-marine biological research. I really like microscopes despite not owning one yet myself, and i absolutely love the direction this field is going, pretty soon we will have extremely high powered microscopes that are small that we can just attach to our smartphones and it will be accessible to all, and i really hope that starts to inspire more people about science and to take up more scientific endevours, we need more people working to understand scientific things if we are going to better our world.

Arahant
11th March, 2014 @ 02:16 pm PDT

I totally agree with Arahant's comments here.

As they can be produced so cheaply and given that in many developing countries people have to exist on less than $1 a day, it would be good if they could be given them absolutely free. So why not sell them here at a small profit and distribute them free to medics in poor countries? [e.g. you buy one here and we send one free to a developing country]

I can imagine most parents in the rich world would pay two or three dollars to buy one for their children and the profit could fund the free ones.

Alien
11th March, 2014 @ 06:33 pm PDT

Rationally using DDT and introducing insects that don't transmit malaria would do more good.

Slowburn
11th March, 2014 @ 07:06 pm PDT

What a wonderful new concept!

A spherical lens, mounted in a simple, flat structure, and held very close to the eye, resulting in high magnification...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonie_van_Leeuwenhoek

Seriously, though, kudos to the designers!

David Bell
12th March, 2014 @ 09:54 am PDT

Arahant and Alien, both excellent ideas...!

gerald
12th March, 2014 @ 09:57 am PDT

The use of DDT will cut deaths by malaria by 90%. Put the powers to be, prefer to believe bad science. That believe makes them more money.

genefowler1
12th March, 2014 @ 10:25 am PDT

SlowKlue: It is NOT rational to spatter DDT across the environment given the persistent damage caused by this pesticide. As for "introducing insects that don't transmit malaria", this is a worse idea than DDT. Australians know a lot about the results of introducing new species and NONE of it is good. Much of North America is being harmed by non-native invasive species. Elm trees, pine trees, and American chestnut trees are all being attacked by, or have been wiped out by non-native species of fungus and insects. Chinese catfish have made their way up the Mississippi river and it's tributaries and are within 10 miles or possibly less, of breaching the headwaters and gaining access to the Great Lakes. These several types of non-native fish are aggressive and destructive of local fish species.

This inexpensive tool is a great innovation for the developing world and for low cost work here. The next variant should be made to readily hook up to cell phone cameras for cheap tele-medicine diagnosis.

StWils
12th March, 2014 @ 11:09 am PDT

Dear Manu Prakash

I saw your Foldscope Microscope invention in the Gizmag article today and I am very impressed and

can only say well done.You are awesome.

In the video presentation you said something about scalability of doing a billion tests for malaria and it made me recall an article which I had read about recently regarding oscillating magnetic fields by Henry Lai, UW research professor of bioengineering,who found the malaria parasite Plasmodium appears to lose vigor and can die when exposed to oscillating magnetic fields, which Lai thinks may cause tiny iron-containing particles inside the parasite to move in ways that damage the organism.This was in the year 2000.

Here is a link: http://www.washington.edu/news/2000/03/30/magnetic-fields-may-hold-key-to-malaria-treatment-uw-researchers-find/

Professor Lai did not follow it up since as far as I know but in 2011 the experiment to confirm this by Dr Robert Brown and others was done on malaria and the research paper is attached.

Or look up malaria oscillating magnetic fields in google.

Now just imagine that instead of people going to get various injections or tablets which may or may not work all they had to was walk in and sit in a room between 2 helmholtz coils for an hour and then walk out with the malaria parasite severely weakened.

The oscillating magnetic field does not have to be very powerful at all.It could be powered by the mains,a car battery or solar cells.

The device would not be expensive just a frame with the 2 helmholtz coils a cheap oscillator to drive the alternating current into the coils and a power supply.Of course it could be scaled up into a room to treat many people at the same time.They don't have to do anything.Just sit between the 2 helmholtz coils.

Helmholtz coils are nothing special or expensive and just consist of copper coils in a flat pancake disc or flat rectangular shape (see google images) .They are routinely used in cathode ray tubes for tvs,oscilloscopes,etc to steer the electron beam.

I urge you to please read the attached research paper.It has all the details of the experiments and all the facts and figures and possible mechanism of action.

I myself had to read it a few times but it is definitely worth it and you with your resources and contacts would not just make a difference with the Foldscope to test the blood for malaria but also to treat it too with the above simple device.

Yours Sincerely,

S Callum.

esecallum
12th March, 2014 @ 03:12 pm PDT

@ StWils

Silent Spring has been proven to be a pack of lies.

Introducing rabbits because you like shooting them and accidentally spread species is entirely different from a biologist finding a substitute to fill the niche for malaria mosquitoes.

Slowburn
12th March, 2014 @ 08:40 pm PDT

Brilliant! This deserves a Nobel Prize nomination.

Mark Lee
12th March, 2014 @ 09:25 pm PDT

Interesting simple invention and about a thousand years overdue. As a kid, I used to place tiny drops of water on objects to magnify and look at them. I always wondered why mankind was so slow to invent true lenses to study microscopic objects. Since this can be done with one lens, I would have expected this to happen long before the invention of telescopes.

Bob
13th March, 2014 @ 07:39 am PDT
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