In order to correctly diagnose certain diseases like malaria, doctors have to send blood and other body fluid samples to specialized laboratories. However, while this is possible in the western world, things are not as easy in third world countries, where labs are few and far between.
Now two chemists from the University of Texas at Austin have invented a simple device that will allow doctors to diagnose an ailment almost instantly. What's even cooler is that the device called oPAD (Origami Paper Analytical Device) is made from paper and costs under 10 cents.
The oPAD is the brainchild of chemists Hong Liu and Richard Crooks who were inspired by a similar biosensor made by Harvard University chemist, George Whitesides. However, his invention involved a rather complicated procedure that involved sticking multiple pieces of paper in a certain way, cutting it with lasers and then putting it back together with tape - In short, not very cost-effective, user friendly or practical for third world countries.
That's when Liu recalled his childhood hobby - Origami and wondered if he could create a similar sensor from a single sheet of paper and ship it with simple origami-like folding instructions that could be followed by anyone. Sure enough, a few tweaks later, the oPAD worked like a charm.
All the user has to do is place a drop of whatever fluid sample (blood, urine, saliva) on to the spot of the paper that has been embedded with the testing chemicals. If it is positive, the paper will either turn a certain color or show two lines instead of one or do whatever the biomarkers are for that particular disease. If it remains unchanged, the patient is ok.
While this in itself is amazing, the two have gone a step further by adding a small battery to the oPAD for tests that require power, making it even more useful while adding only a few cents to the total cost.
Though there have been many attempts made to come up with cheaper and easier testing alternatives, none of them are even close to the oPAD in terms of cost, ease of use, portability and even production, given that all it takes is a printer and some folding. If the oPAD proves to be reliable in detecting diseases, it will be a giant step forward in saving the lives of people in impoverished countries.