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Revolutionary DIY Medical Gadgets

"José Gómez-Márquez’s laboratory at MIT seems to be part toy store, part machine shop, and part medical center," writes Emily Singer in the January-February issue of Utne Reader. "Plastic toys are scattered about, along with a disassembled drugstore pregnancy test, all manner of syringes, and a slew of fake body parts. Coffee filters have been transformed into paper-based diagnostics; a dime-store helicopter provides the design for a new asthma inhaler; even a toilet plunger has been put to use, rigged with tubes and glue to form a makeshift centrifuge."

“Centrifuges break down all the time,” says Gómez-Márquez, spinning the plunger’s wooden handle in his hands. That’s a problem for health care workers, because even simple medical tests rely on them to separate molecules in a blood or urine sample. In rich countries, the broken equipment is quickly repaired or replaced; in the poor countries where Gómez-Márquez works, finding replacement parts can be impossible, rendering the equipment useless. So he has tried to use readily available materials to make simple versions that are either easy to fiddle with, disposable, or unlikely to break in the first place. “This one could work even without power,” he says of the plunger-cum-centrifuge.

Read more about how José Gómez-Márquez is inventing a better world, or just have a look at his revolutionary inventions:

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Using origami and local manufacturing methods, D-Lab Health student Paul Hlebowitsh and his team designed paper spacers for asthma inhalers, replacing a $40 device.

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This hand-powered helicopter toy inspired a new mechanism to aerosolize medication.

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An Aerovax inhalable vaccine cartridge, originally inspired by ink-jet printer cartridges, combines low-cost storage and deployment with simple vaccine delivery.

Gadgets4

Take your pills, get free cell phone minutes. XoutTB diagnostic strips combine economic incentive algorithms and smart paper microfluidics to keep tuberculosis patients on track with their medicine.

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The simple elements in this MEDIK kit enable many creative combinations and user-driven prototype medical device designs.

Device images by Steve Moors, originally shot for Technology Review.  MEDIK image by José Gómez-Márquez.