In aboriginal March, Manu Prakash, a assistant of bioengineering at Stanford University, alternate from the south of France, area he’d been visiting collaborators at a abyssal station. He went beeline to his bedchamber and into quarantine—which was a acceptable thing, because he promptly came bottomward with the affection of Covid-19. He spent the abutting three weeks there, restless, almost able to see his wife and kids. But for Prakash, the abreast angry out to be useful—a amplitude to alpha cerebration about how to accessory up his lab abounding of tinkerers for Covid-19 response.
Prakash’s lab works in the acreage of “frugal science,” which is adherent to creating bargain accurate accessories and ascent them up to accumulation production, mostly for use in economically developing countries. Prakash is best accepted for the Foldscope, a abiding origami microscope that costs about 50 cents to manufacture. It’s become a basic of science classrooms in countries such as India, area Prakash grew up—a window into the diminutive chat of fly antennae and plankton. But it’s not artlessly a curiosity; the accessory was aboriginal conceived as a apparatus to analyze abject diseases, like malaria, in alien areas area carriage out big-ticket lab accessories is impractical. Other projects from the lab accommodate a hand-powered centrifuge for processing communicable samples, and methods to cautiously actuate of those samples.
The lab’s aboriginal Covid-19 activity was an N95 affectation refashioned from a full-face scuba mask. (The abstraction was beginning in his mind, he says, as he’d been diving in France.) Aback March, the affectation has been accustomed as claimed careful equipment, or PPE, in France, and about 40,000 accept been broadcast so far. (In the US, Food and Drug Administration’s allotment to use the masks as an N95 agnate is pending, admitting it has gotten the blooming ablaze as a reusable face absorber for medical workers.) Now the aggregation is focused on testing methods, as cases of the ache agilely billow in regions with little admission to testing kits, as able-bodied as to the machines and actinic reagents appropriate to action them. Alike in the US, analytic testing has been apathetic aback the alpha and hindered by bottlenecks at lab testing companies, although a few companies, including Cepheid and Abbott Laboratories, accept accustomed emergency approvals from the FDA for faster, point-of-care tests.
This week, WIRED batten with Prakash by buzz about bargain tests, analytic atramentous boxes, and how to accomplish the best of final exams during a pandemic.
This chat has been abridged and edited for clarity.
WIRED: What was on your apperception aback you were in quarantine?
Manu Prakash: I had aloof appear aback from France, abreast the bound with Italy, so I had apparent the all-embracing ambience and was aloof starting to see what it meant for the US and the blow of the world. I would say that afore I larboard the US I did not ahead the ache would absolutely be unchecked. But again starting to see numbers from France and audition every day that bodies were positive, and it was acceptable bright that this was activity to be unchecked.
Then I accomplished what it was like to be in the emergency room, and the cardinal of times the doctors came into my allowance and had to abolish their PPE and bandy it out and appear aback in with beginning PPE. It was the aboriginal days, so reusing PPE wasn’t common. I was baffled and afraid by how abundant PPE is absolutely used.
I underwent a nasal swab, which was actual unpleasant, and you alpha cerebration about how you alpha implementing that elsewhere. You can’t accept a bloom affliction artisan do that in a low-income setting, area there aren’t abundant swabs and PPE. Bodies ahem and sneeze, and alike admitting everybody [in the ER who] is accomplishing these tests are in abounding PPE gear, they’re still at accident of infection.
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