One-Cent Microchip
What can you buy for a penny nowadays? Not much, until just recently.

A team of Stanford researchers conducted a study and developed a microchip that can perform multiple, minimally-invasive medical tests. Even better, the microchip takes only twenty minutes to make. This development has the potential to make inexpensive healthcare in developing countries a reality.

The study, which was published on Feb. 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, recognizes the need for new diagnostic technology in developing and resource-limited areas. The scientists noted that technologies would need to be inexpensive, easy to use and applicable to a wide range of medical situations. The team advised that their microchip is simple enough to be operated by non-specialists, yet it integrates multiple steps and analyses, creating viable point-of-care diagnostic testing. The combination of inexpensive health care and ease of use is a major advancement for developing countries.

Minimally Invasive — Redefined

Researchers explained that the affected cells must be isolated from healthy cells in order to diagnose common lethal diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, cancer and HIV. Previously, complicated tools like centrifuges, magnets or membranes were necessary to isolate the diseased cells. With the microchip, the process is simple, cheap, portable, reusable and minimally invasive.

The microchip consists of conductive particles printed on flexible plastic. A regular inkjet printer can be used to print the particles using conductive nanoparticle ink. A separate silicone section reserved for storing the sample sits on top of the chip. The chip only requires a sample size barely a millionth of a liter.

Once a sample is placed on the chip, an electric current is applied, forcing the conductive particles to react. The user can then alter the current as needed to sort the cells in the sample and perform a variety of diagnostic tests. Additionally, drug screens can be conducted with this microchip.

A Penny and 20 Minutes

The Stanford team notes in their paper that manufacturing the chip is considerably less expensive and time-consuming over its predecessors, as the process requires only an inkjet printer. Electrical engineer and lead author of the study, Rahim Esfandyarpour, explained, “We designed it to eliminate the need for clean-room facilities and trained personnel to fabricate such a device.” Creating the microchip takes just 20 minutes, versus up to weeks for other diagnostic tools. The best part is the price — just a penny per chip.
Esfandyarpour recognized that the microchip has great potential to provide inexpensive healthcare in developing countries.

“Enabling early detection of diseases is one of the greatest opportunities we have for developing effective treatments,” Esfandyarpour said. “Maybe $1 in the U.S. doesn’t count that much, but somewhere in the developing world, it’s a lot of money.”

Gisele Dunn

Photo: Flickr

New reports from the National Academy of Sciences suggest climate change could cause severe water shortages across the world. Worst-case scenarios given by one author of the study, Franziska Piontek, say 18 percent of the global population could “experience severe pressure in all four sectors.”

At a time when food and water shortages in the developing world have become a commonality, the projections give insight to a disturbing future for the world. Areas projected to be particularly hard-hit include the Mediterranean region and the southern United States.

Dr. Jacob Shewe of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said, “We all depend on water for so many different purposes, and water scarcity… really impairs many things that people do and that people live on.”

While the debate about climate change continues, extreme weather patterns have not waited for the debate.

Events like Typhoon Haiyan have left parts of the developing world devastated, and recent droughts have afflicted the Amazon and North America. While debate has stalled on the best way to combat climate change, and whether it even exists, the scientists that do believe in climate change feel that the problem is only getting worse from here.

The area of the Amazon affected by this most recent drought is twice the size of California, and could portend to other extensive droughts brought on by climate change. Scientists from the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab have found a precipitous decline in rainfall since about 2005, with smaller declines observed from as far back as 1970.

Not only does freshwater scarcity affect the quality of life of citizens in developing areas, but also their culture as well. It looks that a number of plant and animal species could be endangered by the lack of fresh water.

Subsequently, the people relying on these species could be forced to different industries that they may not have the infrastructure to get involved in.

Most scientists that believe in human-caused climate change attribute it to the greenhouse gas emissions given off by the developed countries.

Even though it is the developed countries giving off the most emissions, the still-developing countries are most negatively affected by the climate changes ensuing. Thus, it is important for those with the ability in the developed countries to work towards not only dealing with climate change, but the infrastructure of the developed countries. This is in order to help the poverty-stricken that won’t be able to deal with a problem that came about from no fault of their own.

Eric Gustafsson

Sources: CBS News, Climate Science Watch, theguardian
Photo: The Guardian