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Whirligig Toy Inspires Scientists To Invent Low-Cost, Hand-Powered Blood Centrifuge To Diagnose Malaria

Update Date: Jan 18, 2017 09:00 AM EST

A popular children's toy has influenced a team of researchers to invent an affordable and hand-powered blood centrifuge, dubbed as "Paperfuge", to help diagnose Malaria.

Malaria, a mosquito-borne illness, has affected about 212 million people worldwide in 2015. An estimated 429,000 people died because of the infection in the same year and nearly half of the world's population is at risk of the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports. Caused by the parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, this disease is usually carried by Anopheles mosquito vectors.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, a team of scientists at Stanford University used the mechanism of an ancient toy, whirligig, in diagnosing Malaria, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and other diseases.

Whirligigs, buzzers and other spinning toys consist largely of a string and an object that spins, like a piece of bone or a button. These can be used to produce an extremely cheap centrifuge, which can match the performance of industry-standard extractors.

However, since the scientists used paper and string, there were issues over the durability of the paper. This means that 3D-printed plastic could be used instead of paper.

The team of scientists created 3D-printed versions with a Formlabs Form 2 machine. The versions were rapidly produced and functioned similarly, though at a lower speed, to the paper and string devices. This could pave the way in the mass production of the new diagnostic tool to be used in countries where there are many cases of malaria and other diseases.

Paperfuge can whip biological samples in circles at up to 125,000 rpm, Wired reports. That is enough to separate plasma from a blood sample in 90 seconds. Commercial and current centrifuges top out at 15,800 rpm and take up to two minutes to conduct a plasma separation.

"To the best of my knowledge, this is the fastest-spinning rotational motion powered by human hands," Manu Prakash, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, told CNN.

Prakash has been into providing innovative paper technology in the field of medicine. In 2012, he revealed the Foldscope, a folding paper microscope, which was inspired by origami. It costs less than a dollar to produce and is powerful enough to see microorganisms.

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