The Paperfuge is a 20-cent hand-powered centrifuge made from simple household materials. It works just like a traditional centrifuge and can spin biological samples at thousands of revolutions per minute – a critical step in disease diagnosis.
Centrifuges are essential for diagnosing the ‘Big Three’ highly infectious diseases: Malaria, HIV, and Tuberculosis. They are designed to isolate and detect low levels of infection, pathogens, and parasites in blood, urine and stool samples. Traditional centrifuges can cost up to US$1,000 per machine and generally rely on electricity.
The Paperfuge was inspired by a 5,000-year-old toy, a spinning button on a string known as a ‘whirligig’, and is made from paper, string, and plastic. It only weighs about two grams, making it not only much lighter and faster than its expensive competitors but also much more suitable for transport and distribution.
The Paperfuge can spin samples at enough speed to separate plasma from a blood sample, a standard diagnostic procedure, in just 90 seconds. With wide distribution of the Paperfuge, particularly in low-resource communities, diseases can be more quickly diagnosed and treated, leading to a reduction in preventable mortality rates.
The design is emblematic of the very important movement of ‘frugal science’. It de-specializes complex skills and technologies for much wider applications – giving remote and underserved communities access to some of the best technologies without the expensive price tag.
"Scientific capability should be a fundamental right," says designer Manu Prakash.
"You'll never be able to do what's being done in a sophisticated lab built with millions of dollars, but, you can always start."
With the playful nature of Paperfuge –hence the Play & Learning category– the designers have also managed to address the training and educational aspect in medicine. Paperfuge empowers local healthcare forces to work better, smarter, faster and, most importantly, with fewer expensive resources. It’s a poster child of democratic design with frictionless adoption.