Medical devices for $0.01: A glimmer of hope for developing countries

Many places in the world, especially developing countries, don’t have access to early medical diagnostics. They are often affected by diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. In addition, illiteracy is wide-spread in these areas (which makes it hard to train people on sophisticated medical equipment, even if the high cost of this equipment were not an issue). Given these extreme challenges, what could be done in order to improve medical care and diagnostics? Cheap diagnostics and easy-to-carry and easy-to-use tools could help turn this around. We used Mergeflow to search for such technologies, and here are some examples of what we found:

Low cost “lab on a chip”

We found out that researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine have developed a way to produce a cheap and reusable diagnostic “lab on a chip” with an ordinary inkjet printer. This tool costs only 1 cent to be made, and it was designed to eliminate the need for clean-room facilities and trained personnel. It is made of a combination of microfluidics, electronics, and inkjet printing, allowing users to analyze different cell types without using fluorescent or magnetic labels. Rahim Esfandyarpour, a researcher from Stanford, explains that a standalone flow cytometer machine can cost $100,000. The lab on a chip is a great invention, as it has the potential to diagnose cancer early by detecting tumor cells that circulate in the bloodstream. Here is what it looks like:

The specifics are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



Stanford bioengineers have also developed an inexpensive, human-powered blood centrifuge that enables diagnosis of diseases like malaria, African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), and tuberculosis in the poor regions where these diseases are most prevalent. The paperfuge is built from 20 cents worth of paper, twine, and plastic. It can spin at speeds of 125,000 rpm and exert centrifugal forces of 30,000 Gs. This centrifuge, inspired by whirligig toys, is created with a disc of paper into which one can slot a vial with blood or other fluids. As shown in a presentation video, by pulling on the strings for a minute or two, the tool separates blood plasma from red cells, without use of electricity. Paperfuge can be a real alternative to devices that usually cost at least a factor of 1,000 more.


The details are described in a Nature Biomedical Engineering paper.


Matibabu is the first smartphone-based diagnosis system for malaria. Developed by a startup based in Uganda,  the tool uses light sensors to diagnose malaria within a couple of minutes. The technology uses light and magnetism to analyze red blood cells for signs of malaria. Matibabu is easy to use: you can insert a finger into the device (the Matiscope), and the results are viewed via a smartphone. This is how it works:

Paper Based Microfluidic Valve (PBMV)

This technology was created at the University of Rhode Island. It allows sequential manipulation of fluids on paper without operator intervention. PBMW technology can be used as a diagnostic tool and for urgent care; from animal health to identification of environmental contaminants, in biological and chemical threat assessment, and other applications. This device is not just low-cost and rapid but also quantitative and fully autonomous. For more details click here.


How PBMW works