How a simple paper toy will help doctors tackle HIV

By Kitty Knowles 11 January 2017

The Paperfuge has been inspired by a 5,000-year-old toy.

Heard of a centrifuge before? It’s a bit like a medical washing machine, that spins samples at high speeds to separate their fluids.

In developed countries these play a key role in diagnosing diseases like HIV, but medics in less developed countries often can’t afford the kit which costs hundreds of pounds.

Paper power

This week however, researchers announced a breakthrough that could play a major role in diagnosing and stopping the spread of disease, and it relies on the power of paper.

A simple pinwheel, similar to the 5,000-year-old ‘whirligig’ children’s toy, can be used in place of expensive mechanical centrifuges, Stanford University scientists wrote in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Dubbed the Paperfuge this mimics the movement of a traditional centrifuge, but costs just 16p to produce, and doesn’t need electricity to function.

It can achieve about 20,000 revolutions per minute.

The device is easy to use, with a central disk (to hold blood samples) and strings that wind and unwind when tension is applied from handles at either end.

The process of separating blood from plasma can be used to diagnose a number of diseases, including malaria – which the case study focused on.

It took just 15 minutes for the scientists to separate malaria parasites using the Paperfuge.

The team, led by bioengineer Manu Prakash now hope the device will be tested in the field, where it could transform the medical landscape, and help save lives.

Watch the video from Nature below…