Ultralow-cost paper microscope shows promise for disease detection
Source: Prakash Lab, Stanford University
During a June 2012 TED Talk, Prakash, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, spoke about the potential benefits of the paper microscope in identifying malaria in developing countries around the tropical belt. Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. Left untreated, people with malaria may develop severe complications and die. Prakash described how simple it is to diagnose using a microscope, but people must still wait months for a diagnosis. The problem, he explained, lies with the microscope itself.
Research microscopes are not designed for field diagnosis; they are bulky, expensive, and difficult to maintain. The Foldscope works just like a normal microscope. The user places a microscope slide between the folds of paper, then either projects the image on a wall or holds the micro-lens close enough to the eye to see the specimen. Focusing on an object is as simple as sliding the paper platform in any direction. Because of the unique optical physics of a spherical lens held close to the eye, samples can be magnified up to 2,000 times.
Prakash’s dream is that this ultralow-cost microscope will someday be distributed widely to detect dangerous blood-borne diseases such as malaria, African sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis, and Chagas.
“I wanted to make the best possible disease-detection instrument that we could almost distribute for free,” he said. “What came out of this project is what we call use-and-throw microscopy.”
Prakash and the Foldscope team recently launched the Ten Thousand Microscope Project, inviting “scientists, teachers, tinkerers, thinkers, hackers, kids, and alike” to submit ideas on how to beta-test the Foldscope, which will be shipped to the 10,000 most promising applicants in August. His team will compile the results of their experiments into a crowdsourced online manual containing examples collected from the project’s participants.
Prakash’s technical paper on the Foldscope microscope is available here and you can watch his TED Talk below.