Researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, have discovered an amazing new use for old technology: converting DVD drives to laser microscopes, capable of analyzing blood samples with extremely high accuracy. Compared to high-end medical devices which perform similar tasks, these machines can be over 150 times less expensive, as well as being far simpler to operate. The high resolution cellular imaging these machines perform is a “standard” part of how medical professionals perform tests for HIV.
The team, led by senior lecturer Aman Russom, has “created a cheap analytical tool for DNA, RNA, proteins and even entire cells” that can get patients results “on the first visit to a doctor.” Instead of undergoing what may be an arduous journey to a medical facility twice (once to get the test, and once to return for the results), this new technology allows people to make short trips to a local medical center. Community health workers can be easily trained to operate these repurposed DVD drives, so tests can be cheap and swiftly scheduled.
Because medical facilities in developing countries often lack sufficient supplies, innovations like this enable what used to be rare and advanced technology to be used in economically poor areas. While many people may assume that poorer medical care in places like Africa and Southeast Asia are due to improper training, the reality is that most often, there simply are not enough supplies to handle the required tests and procedures. Dr. Bruce Charash founded a nonprofit organization called Doc2Doc which collects unused medical supplies from the United States and organizes them into pre-ordered containers for facilities in developing countries. He tells the story of a child he once saw, dying in a hospital. The doctors knew exactly how to save their patient, and they had the proper solution—but they did not have the simple surgical tubing necessary to deliver the medicine. Luckily, Dr. Charash had just arrived with the most recent shipment of supplies, and the child’s life was saved.
With advances like Mr. Russom’s “Lab-on-DVD,” the benefits are simple and clear. More people will now have access to more accurate tests. More community members will receive more medical training, and more doctors will have more free time to treat more patients. The spread of HIV will be able to be tracked more easily, and people will be able to get tested earlier than they normally would, increasing the potential for treatment to save their lives. These portable mini-labs have the potential to change the way we fight diseases like HIV in the poorest areas of the world.
— Jake Simon
Sources: PhysOrg, Doc2Doc(k)