BioMed Mondays 05

“Frugal Science” in Biomedical Engineering


When people think of medical devices, they tend to think of very big, complex, and expensive machines like CT scanners, MRI machines, and centrifuges.  The reality is that not all medical devices are expensive, big, and complex.  In fact, you can make some of these devices at home. Manu Prakash, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, happens to be a leader of the “frugal science” movement.  The “frugal science” movement aims to make cheap, durable goods for people in developing nations.  The Stanford professor has made two notable medical devices that can revolutionize healthcare, the paperfuge, and foldscope.


Both the paperfuge and foldscope are medical devices that were made by the Stanford professor Manu Prakash.  The paperfuge is a cheap version of the centrifuge, which is a machine that separates fluid.  In the medical industry that can be blood, cell samples, and much more.  The paperfuge can do just that at the extremely affordable cost of 20 cents.  What makes the paperfuge even more impressive is that it can spin up to 125,000 rpm and can separate blood plasma within 90 seconds, without the use of electricity.  Now blood tests can be given to people who are less fortunate at an affordable cost.


The foldscope, on the other hand, is an affordable microscope.  It costs less than one US dollar to make and can detect many microorganisms, such as malarial parasites.  It is made from cardstock, a glass lens, one light emitting diode and diffuser panel, and one watch battery.  What is more interesting is how you can take pictures of the magnified objects.  Instead of creating a USB like attachment site on the foldscope, the set to make the device comes with magnet that attach to the microscope and the smartphones.

These two revolutionary inventions are just the beginning of how the frugal science movement can change the field of medicine.  Other medical devices, such as the Jaipur leg and ambupod, also provide a low cost solution to people who have lost their lower limbs and need 24/7 access to health care.  In the information age, anyone can disrupt any industry.  It is not limited to big corporations as it was in the industrial age.  Disruption also does not have to be expensive, as proven by the frugal science movement.  Disruption and innovation only requires ideas and people with an unshakable drive.  

Author: Hamza Waheed