BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom — Designer Jack Albert Trew, a 3D Product Design student at the University of Birmingham City, has designed a low-tech centrifuge alternative to diagnose medical patients in rural developing countries.
Most often, Western medical devices donated to Africa have limited shelf life due to electrical needs and lack of budgets for constant care and repairs.
The World Health Organization estimates that a large proportion—up to 70 percent—of donated medical equipment lies idle. This leads to an inadequacy of donating medical devices to Africa, and a waste in equipment that can potentially save many lives.
Trew’s design, called the Spokefuge, helps doctors in isolated areas test blood without the need of any electric medical equipment. Instead of using electricity to complete the centrifugal process, blood samples are spun by a human-powered machine to be separated for diagnosis.
The simple design uses the energy generated from a bike wheel to power a centrifuge, which allows medical professionals to test for illnesses and health issues like anemia, bone marrow failure and leukemia.
Countries in Africa are more affected by anemia than in any other region around the world. Over two billion people are affected by anemia globally, which makes the blood condition the largest nutritional condition in the world. Many deaths caused in anemia result from the condition being undetected and untested.
The low-tech device was developed by Trew to assist people living in developing region across Africa.
“I stumbled across a very interesting article that highlights the importance of bicycles in developing countries,” Trew said.
The young designer found that bicycles were a common method of transportation in rural areas of Africa, so he decided to use the already existing equipment in Africa and find a different use that could positively effect health.
Microhematocrit centrifuge devices are used to determine the bloods hematocrit—the ratio of red-cell volume to the whole blood volume. The centrifugal force generated by spinning blood samples at very high speeds causes blood to separate at different densities, so the hematocrit can be measured to help diagnose patients on health issues.
The concept behind the device is quite simple. Blood samples are taken and put into capillary tubes. They are to be placed in a rubber casing and inserted into the centrifugal arm, which is attached to the tire, and sealed airtight with a lid. For the Spokefuge, once a balanced number of devices are attached to the bicycle wheel and sealed airtight, the bicycle is ridden in a fixed position for 10 minutes. The force created by the spinning wheel will separate the blood samples and can be compared to a microhematocrit chart for diagnosis.
This simple centrifuge device has the ability to generate the comparable results in blood samples produced by a more expensive electric centrifuge device. Moreover, the device can be carried out anywhere off the grid.
The Spokefuge is not only effective, but will also cost close to nothing, mostly requiring the use of a bicycle, which is found in many rural areas of Africa.
Although it is not perfect science, it can guide and inspire other designers to think about changing the design of medical equipment to be more suitable and beneficial towards underdeveloped countries.
Trew’s device has been recognized for its clever design and has been short-listed for the James Dyson Awards.
– Sandy Phan