Foldscope Can Save LivesIn 2010, Manu Prakash, a professor at Stanford University, and his student, Jim Cybulski, encountered the same problem in most of their travels. The microscopes provided to them were usually broken or there was a lack of access to them altogether. That is what gave them the idea for the Foldscope. They wanted to create a very inexpensive microscope that could be portable. The duo accomplished their goal and by 2014, they had fully developed the technology called the Foldscope. Foldscope can save lives. It has an enormous amount of uses that can impact developing countries tremendously.

The Foldscope is a portable microscope. Prakash and Cybulski made it so that the Foldscope came as a single piece of thick paper. The user assembles it by snapping out the individual pieces from the paper. It takes fewer than ten minutes to put together. The microscope is fully functional and weighs a total of about nine grams. Because of the inexpensive parts used, the Foldscope costs less than a dollar to produce. Although the Foldscope is very inexpensive, it doesn’t mean it isn’t effective; the Foldscope can magnify up to 2,000 times.

Foldscope Fighting Diseases

Because of the cost and accessibility of the Foldscope, each doctor could potentially have their own personal microscope on them. This is largely important because one of the deadliest diseases in the world, Malaria, can only be detected through a microscope. Without the proper equipment, Malaria goes undetected and kills about one million people per year. It affects at least 300 million people in the world today with 90 percent of them being in Sub-Saharan Africa. Having access to a microscope will impact developing countries greatly as detection will decrease the number of deaths per year. Thousands of children will be saved since Malaria affects them the most. In 2016, malaria took the lives of 300,00 children.

Noma is another disease that has a high chance of affecting children in developing countries. This is a disease that can be prevented if dentists have access to the proper tools and the public has access to dentists. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in these developing countries. The ratio of dentists to the general population in Africa is 1 to 150,000. When there are dentists available, they often don’t have the necessary tools. By providing Foldscopes to dentists in developing countries, dentists can easily identify diseases like Noma that affect 140,000 people per year. This could prevent the deaths of as many as 80 percent of those affected.

Preventing Hearing Loss

In surgery, microscopes are crucial for performing effective operations. This is especially true in surgeries involving the ear. Hearing loss is a prevalent problem in developing nations. The most common cause of hearing loss in these countries is chronic otitis media. Chronic otitis media can include a hole in the eardrum or an infection that won’t heal. It can also include other infections that can lead to the erosion of the walls in the ear. These holes can cause serious side effects like facial nerve paralysis and meningitis.

Chronic otitis media affects at least 65 to 330 million people per year with 90 percent of them occurring in developing nations. Fortunately, this can be prevented through surgery. However, because there aren’t many ENT specialists and most don’t have access to the tools they need, it has become a widespread problem in developing nations. The availability of the Foldscope can save lives and impact developing countries tremendously because they make surgeries are more possible. This could help bring down the most prevalent cause of hearing loss in developing countries.

Increasing Scientific Breakthroughs

Research in developing countries has been improving for years now. Unfortunately, many governments generally don’t have the funds to provide research facilities with the equipment needed. Equipment like basic mass spectrometers can cost between $100,000 and $200,000. This is why it’s important to cut down costs at every opportunity.

Since 65 percent of Africans rely on agriculture to live, agricultural research is some of the most important research being done in developing countries. It’s important that scientists get the equipment they need. Because the Foldscope is a portable microscope, it’s perfect to take out into the field to study crops. Although the Foldscope was designed for portable applications, it has a wide range of potential uses that can impact developing countries greatly.

The microscope detection of malaria in its early stages could save thousands of children’s lives. It could also help dentists in developing countries detect Noma. The microscope can also help ENT specialists prevent hearing loss at an early age, which can help open up opportunities they wouldn’t have. Lastly, the Foldscope is beneficial to scientists in developing countries as it gives them an easy way to study out in the field. All of these potential uses for the Foldscope can save lives and even help the economies of developing countries. Having a healthier population will provide a boost to their economies.

Ian Scott
Photo: Flickr

fighting_malariaIn 2005, President George W. Bush launched the President’s Malaria Initiative, an effort to make the U.S. a technical and financial leader in fighting malaria. In 2008, the signing of the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act extended the existing legislation and tripled the budget for the cause.

The effort has been largely successful, due partly to the range of methodology. The following are all ways that PMI is seeking to address the spread of the disease.

  1. Raw equipment: Over 102 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) have been distributed by PMI.
  2. Prevention: Over 243 million antimalarial treatments, 107 million rapid diagnostic tests and over 25 million preventive treatments for expectant mothers have been distributed by PMI.
  3. Education: Collectively, over 170,000 health care workers were trained in treating malaria in the fiscal year of 2014 alone.
  4. Finances: The funding level has increased from $30 million in 2006 to $669 million in 2015.
  5. Partnerships: PMI works with National Malaria Control Programs (NMCPs), as well as independent nonprofits, community groups, academia, the private sector and government agencies.
  6. Technology: The constant expansion of technology has allowed for ever-more efficient combat against malaria. For example, smartphone GPS systems allow health officials to map out routes for the transportation of insecticide used for Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS). This way they can avoid areas inaccessible by car, sensitive areas that they should not spray (such as organic crops) and other potential hazards.
  7. Specific goals: The PMI targets 20 “focus countries,” and sets both short-term and long-term goals to keep careful track of its progress.
  8. Looking to the future: The new six-year strategy (launched at the beginning of 2015) has goals that include reducing malaria mortality by over 80 percent from the original 2000 baseline levels.

Em Dieckman

Sources: CGDEV, PMI 1, PMI 2, USAID
Photo: Alliance for Malaria Protection

eradicating_malariaEvery minute, a child dies from malaria. 90 percent of the deaths from malaria occur in the poorest African countries. Malaria is a preventable, treatable disease, yet more than half of the world’s population continues to be at risk.

Malaria has long been established as a poverty-related disease. Poverty is both a cause and effect of this potentially lethal disease: poorer people can often not afford preventive measures, and the contraction of disease leads to further economic loss. Consequentially, a substantial investment of time and resources into finding a solution is necessary to interrupt this vicious cycle.

The most successful method to combat the problem has been vector control- that is, to eradicate the mosquito transfer agent. Traditionally, the efforts have been to implement better preventative measures, primarily through insecticides, which are both expensive as well as environmentally harmful.

A more modern approach to the problem is to employ biotechnology to eliminate the mosquito vector more economically and effectively. This encompasses targeting the mosquito at a subcellular level by using a cytotoxic agent- that is a chemical that disrupts the mosquito’s cellular machinery.

Of these methods, the use of silver nanoparticles is becoming increasingly popular as nanotechnology advances. Silver nanoparticles are miniscule, nanoscale pieces of silver, which is highly toxic at cellular levels. This toxicity is being explored in its usages as antimicrobial and pesticidal agent.

Silver nanoparticles are traditionally synthesized using laboratory-grade reagents, which tend to be expensive and not readily available. Many researchers are now looking to phytosynthesis as an answer. The process of phyto-synthesis manipulates the ability of plants to carry out reactions to use in chemical synthesis. For instance, the phytosynthesis reaction of plants can be alternatively used to reduce silver ions to silver atoms.

Recent endeavors to utilize the phytosynthesis capabilities of plants have centered on the use of plant waste products to maximize productivity and minimize cost. In a recent study, researchers used the husk of coconut plant- abundant in the tropical regions plagued by malaria. They used the husk of coconut, which is a waste product from the fruit, to synthesize silver nanoparticles from silver nitrate. The synthesis eliminated the use of a synthetic reagent, and achieved successful results.

The nanoparticles produced were then used by the researchers to treat larval Culex quinquefasciatus, a species of mosquitos found in sub-tropical regions which is similar to the malaria mosquito in its transmission mechanism. The nanoparticles were observed to have significant larvicidal effect on the mosquito.

The study indicates the great potential of phytosynthetic methods to produce cheap and effective insecticides. By using plants indigenous to the tropical areas where malaria is most prevalent, the insecticidal measures of prevention can be made more accessible to the people. The use of waste products of coconut in the process is considerably cost-effective and eco-friendly.

Although the implementation of these innovative techniques may be some way in the future, ingenuity in research offers promising new horizons for a better, healthier world. To borrow Einstein’s words, it is time our technology caught up with our humanity.

– Atifah Safi

Sources: WHO 1, WHO 2, Science Direct
Photo: Flickr

A laser defense system from the scientists at Intellectual Ventures may prove to be an effective weapon against malaria-spreading mosquitoes.

The device is known as a “photonic fence” and works by monitoring a virtual field for disturbances caused by insects. Once an intruder is properly identified as a mosquito, it is targeted with a deadly laser. Within a fraction of a second, the device shears off the bug’s wing, leaving it dead or incapacitated.

Bees, butterflies and humans need not worry, however; the software powering the photonic fence is precise. It can determine not only the type of insect but also its gender and species. This accuracy is needed because only mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles carry malaria and only females bite people. The software analyzes insect size, wing movement pattern, airspeed and other characteristics to discern friend from foe.

Naturally, the idea is not without its skeptics. One concern is that rural areas often have unreliable power grids. The scientists at Intellectual Ventures hope to solve this problem with the use of solar cells. The laser itself doesn’t require much energy, as it targets the wings of a mosquito rather than its tough exoskeleton.

Intellectual Ventures sees the device as supplementing, rather than replacing current measures of control. These include habitat destruction, nets for homes and beds, as well as pesticides. Nonlethal uses of the photonic fence are also possible, such as monitoring mosquitoes or agricultural pests so that they can be treated with more traditional methods.

The company is currently field testing the device in a partnership with Lighting Science Group. Models are not yet for sale and the so-called mosquito laser will need to be produced cheaply in order to be effective.

The device couldn’t come at a better time. Over three billion people—more than half the world’s population—are at risk of malaria worldwide. An estimated 584,000 people died of malaria in 2013, out of 198 million cases. Although the disease is present in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, most deaths due to malaria occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. Young children are particularly vulnerable to the disease; it is estimated a child dies of malaria every minute.

Its widespread economic effects worsen malaria’s human devastation. Several studies have demonstrated a relationship between malaria and poverty, and many of the world’s poorest countries have high rates of the disease. Refugees and transient people are at heightened risk of malarial infection, as they may not have developed any immunity.

– Kevin Mclaughlin

Sources: Intellectual Ventures, NCBI, WHO
Photo: Intellectual Ventures Lab