One of the largest hurdles in the fight against malaria is reliable detection. There are many strains of the disease, so reaching for a cure-all pill without a proper diagnosis can do more harm than good. Often medication is given for the wrong type of malaria, or to patients who have a different ailment altogether. Standard testing can be expensive and geographically inaccessible, particularly in remote areas of the Global South. The Foldscope is a revolutionary new microscope developed by PrakashLab at Stanford University that is set to change the game on malaria detection and control.
The team set out to find a way to test up to a billion people per year in a scalable and sustainable way. They recognized that to reach the distribution level required, any solution would have to be rugged, cheap, and able to run without a power supply.
The Foldscope tackles all of these issues head on.
The Foldscope is a paper microscope made by folding, like origami. It is minimalistic, scalable, and application specific. Although inspired by the fight against malaria, the device is flexible enough to be used in field-based science, youth education, and even standard medical kits.
Crucially, the Foldscope is cheap. It is manufactured for less than a dollar (which will likely drop with mass production), making it cheap enough to distribute much more widely than other mobile options. Small enough to fit in your pocket and weighing only 8.8 grams (less than two nickels), it can even be disposed of when finished. It takes up little room amidst relief supplies, is largely waterproof, and can even be thrown from a three story building or jumped on without being damaged.
PrakashLab recognized that proper detection requires specificity and flexibility. To address this, the Foldscope comes in a range of versions, including the standard bright-field, fluorescent, dark field polarization, and even projection models that enlarge the specimen on a screen or wall. Each model comes with all the features of a standard laboratory microscope and accepts the standard glass or plastic slide used universally. Incredibly, the Foldscope offers exceptional specifications given its diminutive size, including 2,000x magnification and a sub-micron resolution to 800nm.
The research team is currently looking for ten thousand people to test the microscopes in a range of settings with the goal of turning the project into a truly crowd-sourced innovation that meets the needs of its users on the ground. To get involved with this testing, register here.
To learn more, check out the extensive information available through the project’s website here. Articles about the project include one by BoingBoing and another on Yahoo.com. You can also follow PrakashLab on Twitter. If you’re not already convinced, the following video is guaranteed to change your mind.