Saturday, March 07, 2015

Two exciting technological opportunities

A couple of interesting articles found in the new issue of The Economist:

Medical apps: Smartphone diagnosis
Samuel Sia and his colleagues at Columbia University in New York have miniaturised a laboratory-based blood test called an ELISA (for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). It detects biological markers, such as antibodies made in response to an infection. A sample of blood from a finger prick is placed in a small disposable plastic cassette that contains reagents necessary for an ELISA. The cassette is inserted into the test-device itself, which is small enough to fit into the hand of the user and contains what is known as a “lab-on-a-chip”. This, in turn, is plugged into the phone. An app manages the test and after 15 minutes a negative or positive result is displayed on the phone’s screen. 
The equipment was recently tried out by health-care workers in Rwanda testing pregnant women, from a single sample of blood, for HIV and syphilis. The results were encouraging and the team are now exploring how to bring their smartphone test to market. Dr Sia says he estimates the device itself would cost about $35 to manufacture. An ELISA machine in a laboratory could cost more than $18,000.
The other idea is from Descue Medical, a Salt Lake City-based startup founded by two brothers, Christopher and Andrew Pagels. They have come up with a product called iTest...... 
The idea is to offer a variety of different test kits that can be used by the same iTest device to diagnose a range of conditions, says Andrew Pagels. The brothers say they have already developed tests for HIV and MRSA, a bacterial infection which is particularly difficult to treat, and are working on tests for the flu, sexually transmitted diseases and a combination test for dengue fever and malaria.......The brothers anticipate the main iTest device would sell for about $150 with the test kits available separately. 
By offering lab-type diagnostics to almost any population with access to a smartphone, such devices would be particularly useful in remote and resource-poor areas.
 Mobile networks" DIY telecoms
Fed up with the failings of the big operators, remote Mexican communities are acting for themselves 

(In a remote area of Mexico) a new kind of tree is springing up: the mobile telephone mast. Unlike most phone masts in the world these are installed, owned and operated by small, mostly indigenous communities. Providing a mobile service in these villages was not profitable enough for big telecoms companies to bother with, unless the locals stumped up $50,000. But improvements in software and the falling price of hardware has made it possible to build a local mobile-phone base station for around $7,500, which non-profit operators and small communities can muster. 
Sixteen communities in this remote corner of Mexico now count on local mobile services which cost much less than that of Mexico’s dominant operator, América Móvil, or its nearest rival, Movistar.
Appropriate technology for application benefiting poor people in poor countries does not always have to be old fashioned. New technologies can sometimes leapfrog ahead, solving important problems for these people at an affordable cost.

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