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.
Kerr and Theis are minoring in global health technologies and took the Introduction to Bioengineering and World Health class taught by Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Rice's Stanley C. Moore Professor, chair of the Department of Bioengineering and director of Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health Technologies.
"There was a whole range of projects to take on this year, and luckily we got one that wasn't terribly engineering-intensive," said Kerr, a sociology major from Dayton, Ohio.
"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 diagnosi
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