MacGyver’d Medicine

By Sony Salzman
BU News Service

MacGyver would love these three diagnostic devices designed around cheap and accessible items. As the Oct. 1 launch date of U.S. healthcare reform ticks closer, thoughtful engineering may be a solution to the problem of overpriced medical tests. What could be more American than that?

MacGyver would be proud of these nifty and thrifty medical diagnostic devices.
MacGyver would be proud of these nifty and thrifty medical diagnostic devices. © Tumblr

In medicine, the biggest hurdle before treating someone is finding out what’s wrong in the first place – a diagnosis. However, the devices used to diagnose patients are often cumbersome and extraordinarily expensive, leading to hefty bills for both the patient and insurance company.

In the world of medical diagnostics, engineers and chemists are defying the notion that bigger is better. This blog features three in-development tools that promise to deliver high quality healthcare at a fraction of the cost. The 1st comes from academia at the University of Texas at Austin, the 2nd comes from at student lab at MIT, and the 3rd comes from a private company called Diagnostics for All. As American’s confront growing medical costs and hospitals face healthcare reform’s belt-tightening, care providers are looking for low-cost options. And as an added bonus, cheap and easy-to-use tests can make a huge impact in developing nations without a way to pay for the more expensive alternatives available in the U.S. The three devices featured are merely a sampling of a growing wave of elegant and simple diagnostics, which I believe are the technologies of the future.

 

Lightweight Bloodflow imager

Used to: diagnose and study a variety of ailments, from migraines to strokes

Made by: University of Texas at Austin

Price: $90

MacGuyver’d parts: Off-the-shelf commercial parts including a webcam and a laser pointer.

Alternative (current standard of care): Laser speckle contrast imaging

What does it look like?

Lightweight Bloodflow imager, developed by the University of Texas at Austin.
Lightweight Bloodflow imager, developed by the University of Texas at Austin. © Andrew Dunn, University of Texas – Austin

 

Anemia iDX

Used to: Diagnose anemia, an iron deficiency

Made by: The D Lab at MIT

Price: (not yet priced)

MacGuyver’d parts: A red laser, which shines through the eyelids, a Photoresistor and LED display that shows the reflective levels, and a battery to power the thing.

Alternative (current standard of care): Blood test that measures red blood cell count and size/shape

What does it look like? 

Anemia iDX, an anemia diagnostic device created by MIT's D Lab.
Anemia iDX, an anemia diagnostic device created by MIT’s D Lab. ©Anemia iDX

 

Paper chip diagnostics

Used to: Diagnose a variety of infectious diseases

Made by: Harvard chemist George Whitesides and his company, Diagnostics for All.

Price: 3 to 5 cents

MacGuyver’d parts: The main component is paper, which has been chemically altered to change properties in the presence of certain markers, just like a pregnancy test. A drop of blood, urine or sweat is enough to trigger a chemical reaction for a variety of different tests.

Alternative (current standard of care): Blood and urine tests to identify pathogens

What does it look like? 

Diagnostics for All paper test, the size of a postage stamp.
Diagnostics for All paper test, the size of a postage stamp. ©DiagnosticsForAll

 

But wait, there’s more…  

Don’t overlook this TedTalk given by the nobel prize winning George Whitesides, who devotes his career to simplifying medicine. (Teaser: Whitesides mentions coffee, cheetahs and pornography in the first two minutes, but it’s well worth sticking around for all 18).

Most notably, “simple” to Whitesides means reliable, predictable and repeatable. The trick is engineering those three elements into a low cost medical product.

“If you find things that are cheap enough, people will use them … For example, stones. You can build cathedrals out of stones.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Posted by: Sony Salzman on

Tags: ,