STANFORD, California — Appropriate medical treatment is critical to effectively fighting disease, but for many doctors around the globe, the inability to accurately diagnose patients means that millions won’t receive disease-specific treatment.
However, a new invention out of Stanford University might allow doctors in places that can’t afford conventional technology the ability to diagnose a multitude of otherwise deadly diseases. That invention is called a Foldscope, and it’s a microscope made almost entirely out of cardstock paper.
The creator, Manu Prakash, designed the device along with his students in hopes of creating a simple and affordable medical diagnostic tool. Aside from the paper components, the Foldscope only requires a watch battery and an LED backlight. The end result is a 50-cent paper microscope that can magnify up to 2,000 times and is deceptively durable.
One of the most important considerations for Prakash and his team was to ensure that the inexpensive device would not be flimsy or unreliable. They realized that in many communities, this Foldscope would have to survive unfavorable conditions and perform its essential functions for a very long time.
In that respect, the Foldscope is an engineering marvel because it can survive large falls and can even persist after being stomped on as Prakash demonstrates in a Stanford University interview. Conversely, because the microscope is so cheap and easy to make, it could easily be discarded after a single use.
No matter the way it is used, scientists and medical professionals are hopeful that this sort of cheap microscopy might radically affect health outcomes in the developing world. Prakash is particularly animated about the Foldscope’s potential in the fight against malaria and other blood-borne diseases.
As of 2013, 3.4 billion people were at risk of contracting malaria. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 207 million people were affected by malaria in 2012 and nearly 650,000 died as a result. Most of these deaths occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa and well over half were children under the age of five.
The tragedy with malaria is that there are effective treatments for the disease and a medical community that has diagnostic capabilities (as with a microscope) could make a significant dent in the number of deaths due to malaria through proper treatment.
The goal for Prakash and his team is to thoroughly test the Foldscope (which is now in the field in Africa and Southeast Asia), and to begin mass production so that people in need can receive the treatments that are specific to their condition. If they are successful, the Foldscope may be responsible for the well-being of millions.