A simple salad spinner will save lives this summer, if everything goes as planned by two Rice University undergraduates.
The spinner has been turned, so to speak, into a rudimentary centrifuge that medical clinics in developing countries can use to separate blood without electricity.
Rice sophomore Lila Kerr and freshman Lauren Theis will take their Sally Centrifuge abroad for nearly two months this summer as part of Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB), Rice's global health initiative that brings new ideas and technologies to underdeveloped countries. Kerr will take a spinner to Ecuador in late May, Theis will take one to Swaziland in early June and a third BTB team will take one to Malawi, also in June. Such field testing is important to Rice students as they develop a range of tools to enhance global health.
"We were essentially told we need to find a way to diagnose anemia without power, without it being very costly and with a portable device," added Theis, a political science major and native of San Antonio, Texas.
They found that a salad spinner met those criteria. When tiny capillary tubes that contain about 15 microliters of blood are spun in the device for 10 minutes, the blood separates into heavier red blood cells and lighter plasma. The hematocrit, or ratio of red blood cells to the total volume, measured with a gauge held up to the tube, can tell clinicians if a patient is anemic. That detail is critical for diagnosing malnutrition, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria.
But the manual Sally Centrifuge, named in honor of a landmark known as the Sallyport on the Rice campus, has other advantages.
First, it requires no electricity -- just a bit of muscle. "We've pumped it for 20 minutes with no problem," Theis said. "Ten minutes is a breeze."
Second, it can spin up to 30 tubes at a time versus the ZIPocrit's maximum of four.
Third, it has proven to be fairly robust. "It's all plastic and pretty durable," Kerr said. "We haven't brought it overseas yet, of course, but we've trekked it back and forth across campus in our backpacks and grocery bags and it's held up fine."
The centrifuge, assembled using plastic lids, cut-up combs, yogurt containers and a hot-glue gun, costs about $30 in parts, including the spinner. The students expect to continue work on the device after their summer treks.
Contact: David Ruth | EurekAlert!
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