Stanford researchers have developed a low-cost, print-and-fold paper microscope they hope will improve disease diagnosis in developing countries.
The Foldscope is the invention of bioengineering professor Manu Prakash, who was inspired to create the device after traveling through India, Thailand, Uganda and Nigeria.
During his travels, he met people suffering from infectious diseases who went undiagnosed because microscopes — which can cost upward of $200 — were too expensive.
Prakash and his team developed their affordable microscope from a sheet of a paper, a watch battery, an LED light and optical units. When folded together, these items create a functional microscope that can magnify an object up to 2,000 times.
The finished product can be manufactured for about 50 cents.
"It was very clear that anything we came up with, if we can't scale it to the cost it needs to be, it doesn't really reach anywhere," Prakash told the San Francisco Chronicle.
To operate the Foldscope, users hold the lens close to their eye like they would a traditional microscope. Paper mechanisms allow users to magnify the image or slide it to view different parts of it.
Jim Cybulski, a doctoral student who served on Prakash's team, traveled to underdeveloped areas in Nigeria and India to field test Foldscope.
"It's really a different experience once you get outside the lab," he told The Stanford Daily. "You understand how people perceive it and how it fits into their daily life."
Testing the paper microscope in the field revealed one chief drawback to the Foldscope: Holding potentially infectious samples close to one's body is understandably risky.
Now the team is developing another type of foldable microscope to use in such situations.
This specialized microscope has a feature that allows magnified images to be projected onto a wall. Prakash says his team's target cost for the device is about $10.
In addition to helping underdeveloped areas more efficiently diagnose disease, Prakash also wants the Foldscope to benefit education.
"We have a very simple goal that every single kid in the world should grow up with a microscope," Prakash said.
Interested in trying a Foldscope?
The Stanford team recently launched the Ten Thousand Microscope Project and is asking people around the world to test the device.
About 8,000 people have already signed up from 25 different countries.
Recipients are simply asked to contribute a report detailing how they plan to use the Foldscope. One user plans to examine bees to study colony collapse disorder, while another wants to use it to persuade Mongolian farmers to pasteurize their milk.
"Microscopy is just a way to think about the world," Prakash said. "It is very much is a window into the world, but what you do with it is very, very, very broad and it cannot be anticipated."
Learn more about Foldscope in the video below.
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