Tag Archive for: Medical Physics

125,000 rpm centrifuge… powered by hand, made from cardboard

This is outstanding!

One of the first steps in a whole host of blood tests which might be used for medical diagnosis is to ‘spin down’ the sample – to bung it in a high-speed centrifuge and whirl it around, separating out the red blood cells from the blood plasma. Accordingly, you’ll find centrifuge equipment in every haematology lab in the West… but they don’t work so well in places where the electricity supply is shaky.

In 2013 Indian-born Manu Prakash, now a physical biology researcher at Stanford University in the US, stumbled over a centrifuge in a clinic in Uganda. Literally stumbled, as it was propping open a door.

Prakash is the same guy who, a year ago, introduced a microscope made from folded paper and a cameraphone. The result of his discussions about centrifuges is similarly simple yet inspired: his team at Stanford have now adapted an ancient children’s toy to make a hand-powered, cardboard-based centrifuge which achieves 125,000 revolutions per minute. That’s astonishing, and it’s sufficient to prepare samples for a range of tests in just a few minutes.

The ever-marvellous journalist Ed Yong (check out his book I Contain Multitudes!) has the full story at The Atlantic, with more details of all the juicy bits of physics the group had to do to optimise the toy for medical use. It’s one of those simple systems that nobody had thought to study before. Nature have produced the video above, and the invention is written up as a paper at Nature Biomedical Engineering.

The “Paperfuge” can be made for something like 20 cents, and the researchers have even submitted an application to Guinness World Records for the fastest rotational speed via a human-powered device.

Prakash’s group are now testing their design in rural Madagascar, and are exploring 3D-printable plastics in the hopes of being able to cheaply produce centrifuges which are integrated with specific blood tests, or transparent versions which would double as microscope slides.

Awesome invention.

STEM Careers: QuantuMDx handheld diagnosis devices

quantumdx logo

QuantuMDx logo

Recently I visited a fantastic and exciting company: QuantuMDx. Based in Newcastle, the diverse team splits their time between the office and lab, exercising a range of STEM and business skills. They’re developing a range of low cost, handheld medical devices which will diagnose a range of diseases in minutes – the world’s first handheld DNA laboratory.

The company’s technology allows them to extract DNA from a blood sample and, using custom-developed nanotech, test it against markers for specific diseases within about fifteen minutes. The devices are speedy, accurate, and in principle can test for hospital-acquired infections, tuberculosis, HIV, cancers, and more. The team have initially set their sights on malaria treatment: quick diagnosis in the field will allow health professionals to prescribe effective treatments, improving outcomes for patients.

There are public health benefits too. Imagine a cheap, quick, readily-available device which can accurately test for a disease like Ebola. Rather than samples being returned to a lab and tested over a period of days, those devices could be deployed in the field. Integrate them with mobile phone technology, and location information could be included in the test results and collected in minutes. The implications for how we observe, understand, map and ultimately control the spread of outbreaks of contagious diseases are immense, and very much the sort of direction QuantuMDx are heading.

quantumdx Q-POC handheld diagnosis device

QuantuMDx Q-POC handheld diagnosis device

The team at QuantuMDx are made up of Physicists, Nano-Scientists, Chemists, Electrical Engineers, Biomedical Engineers as well as as a team of business professionals. Lucy Harvey, Marketing and Business Development Officer, has a background in science, having studied a BSc in Sports and Exercise Science at the University of Stirling. Lucy considers this a key strength to her role as she understands the science behind the product, and can promote what QuantuMDx is developing to the wider community and potential stakeholders.

It’s no exaggeration to say that QuantuMDx are setting out to change the world, and for many of their future patients they most certainly will. By studying STEM subjects you too could work on unique and life-changing technologies, with innovative and multi-skilled teams, right here in the North East! For more information about QuantuMDx visit their website, read their blog, and watch the film we’ve embedded below of molecular biologist Jonathan O’Halloran speaking at the WIRED Health event last year.

Teachers: QuantuMDx is fantastic company to showcase within science lessons, because of the diversity of the team. Perhaps your class could be the ‘Research & Development’ team tasked with thinking of new ways that the device could be developed and utilised even further? Please use the comments box below to message us your ideas and innovations.

Tag Archive for: Medical Physics

Lenses revision 26 May 2016

I hope that you found the lenses revision session helpful. It’s an area of physics which has lots of applications – particularly in medical physics, imaging (cameras) and astronomy.

Here’s a link to a PhET simulation which lets you move an object around and see where the image is formed.

The NHS careers website has examples and descriptions of different jobs involved in medicine, including medical physics.  For example, Clinical photographer, Opthalmologist and vision scientist, and healthcare assistants.

And here’s a short film about what a dispensing optician does.

Finally, if you’d like a blank copy of the graphic organiser we used, you can download a copy (GraphicOrganiserLenses) and then use it to see how much you remember about lenses.