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Sometimes we are astounded by a genius stroke that reduces a challenge to its simplest terms. The result is staggering in its simplicity.
In developing countries, even relatively simple medical technologies are often not available because of their expense, the lack of fuel or electricity to power them, or their sensitivity to harsh conditions. These same issues affect the use of the insulin pump thoughout much of the world. Last year, Lila Kerr and Lauren Theis, a couple of Rice University undergraduates studying bioengineering, came up with the idea of using a salad spinner to serve as a centrifuge. Really. A hand-powered plastic centrifuge. Brilliant.
Iron-deficiency anemia is a common medical condition in developing countries and contributes to many serious health issues. But it frequently goes undiagnosed. Diagnosing anemia requires a blood sample and a centrifuge that spins to seperate blood cells from blood plasma. Most commercial centrifuges for medical purposes cost hundreds to thousands of dollars and require batteries or electricity.
Maybe we didn’t know it, but the hand-powered salad spinner is a centrifuge that separates the water from our lettuce leaves. So that our luscious bleu cheese dressing will stick.
Your average kitchen salad spinner, the students determined, will spin at 950rpm, and if you pump it for 10 minutes, that's enough to separate the blood cells. Sure you have to pump it by hand for 10 minutes, but here’s the payoff versus a conventional centrifuge:
_ Cost: $35 vs $ hundreds
_ Capacity: salad spinners, with a few modifications, can hold 30 blood samples vs 4 samples for a typical centrifuge
_ Reliability: FREE hand-power vs SOMETIMES COSTLY or unavailable batteries or electricity
_ A Better way to separate blood cells, help more people stay healthy.
The students are testing their invention in the real world, and undoubtedly there will be further modification to their invention, but the most amazing thing is that they thought of it. They connected a SALAD SPINNER to ANEMIA.
It's the kind of ingenious thinking that needs to be applied to insulin pumps. The pump is a tremendous technology, with spectacular benefits for people with diabetes, but because of cost, distribution hurdles, and other issues, those benefits are largely limited to people with substantial financial resources. As I say in THE BOOK OF BETTER, we can't say we're Better at treating diabetes until we're Better at treating everyone with diabetes.
Better living through salad spinners.