Matternet’s design for a Medical Aid Quadcopter
What’s the News: Many of the unmanned aerial vehicles we hear about are flying off to war, laden with weapons or surveillance equipment. The tech start-up Matternet, however, is designing small quadcopter UAVs to carry peaceable payloads, delivering medical supplies and other necessities to areas dangerous or difficult to reach by road.
Developing nations may be where infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis flourish, but ironically, these regions often have the fewest resources for equipment to diagnose the maladies.
A new fluorescence microscope, however, could offer an affordable solution: One that attaches to an ordinary mobile phone. Once snapped on to any mobile phone that has a basic camera function, the microscope can illuminate pathogens, allowing the viewer to identify them and even send the image to a health care facility, according to an article published in the journal PLoS ONE.
To use the device, called the CellScope, fluorescent molecular “tags” are added to a blood sample, which attach themselves to a certain pathogen, such as tuberclosis-causing bacteria. The pathogens are then illuminated by microscope, which uses cheap commercial light-emitting diodes as the light source – in place of the high-power, gas-filled lamps used in laboratory versions of the device, and cheap optical filters to isolate the light coming from the fluorescent tags [BBC News]. The apparatus allows the viewer to “see” things as small as one-millionth of a meter.
A new device smaller and cheaper than a postage stamp could be used to diagnose diseases in developing countries, Harvard researchers report. The sophisticated microfluidic diagnostic devices, called microPADS, are made out of little more than paper and sticky tape and cost about three cents each. “The starting point with us was asking, ‘What’s the simplest, cheapest [material] we could think of?’ … And that was paper,” [The Scientist] said co-author George Whitesides.
The microPADs, described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [subscription required], are made with layers of paper and water-proof tape. Tiny holes and channels etched into the paper lead from a small number of single wells on top and branch out through the stack to an array of microwells on the bottom [IEEE Spectrum]. When liquids such as urine or blood is placed in the upper wells, they are absorbed through the channels into the microwells, which contain proteins, antibodies, or other chemicals. A color-change reaction indicates the absence or presence of a disease. Because the device splits one sample into dozens of separate microwells, several tests can be performed simultaneously. The prototype microPADs transported four separate liquid samples to 64 designated reservoirs within 5 minutes. In 27 out of 30 tries, the devices moved the liquids without mixing them [ScienceNOW Daily News].
Researchers have invented a microscope that’s about the size of a tiny iPod shuffle, and say the cheap, disposable, and sturdy device could be a boon for doctors in the developing world. The microscope, which researchers say could be mass-produced for about $10, could be used to quickly scan a patient’s blood for the parasites that cause malaria, sleeping sickness, and other tropical diseases, for example.
The new tool could be a useful alternative to the typically bulky optical microscopes, in which lenses and lights normally needed to illuminate, magnify and focus an image take up a lot of space, and are fragile and expensive to boot [New Scientist]. In contrast, researcher Changhuei Yang says his invention could be slipped into a doctor’s pocket, and could be brought to the most isolated village. “The whole thing is truly compact, it could be put in a cell phone, and it can use just sunlight for illumination, which makes it very appealing for Third World applications,” he said [The Independent].