Complete Story


COVID-19 Testing Is Expensive

It doesn't have to be

In early March, Manu Prakash, a professor of bio-engineering at Stanford University, returned from the south of France, where he’d been visiting collaborators at a marine station. He went straight to his bedroom and into quarantine—which was a good thing, because he promptly came down with the symptoms of COVID-19. He spent the next three weeks there, restless, barely able to see his wife and kids. But for Prakash, the isolation turned out to be useful—a space to start thinking about how to gear up his lab full of tinkerers for Covid-19 response.

Prakash’s lab works in the field of “frugal science,” which is devoted to creating low-cost scientific devices and scaling them up to mass production, mostly for use in economically developing countries. Prakash is best known for the Foldscope, a durable origami microscope that costs about 50 cents to manufacture. It’s become a staple of science classrooms in countries such as India, where Prakash grew up—a window into the microscopic word of fly antennae and plankton. But it’s not simply a curiosity; the device was first conceived as a tool to diagnose parasitic diseases, like malaria, in remote areas where hauling out expensive lab equipment is impractical. Other projects from the lab include a hand-powered centrifuge for processing infectious samples, and methods to safely dispose of those samples.

The lab’s first COVID-19 project was an N95 mask refashioned from a full-face scuba mask. (The concept was fresh in his mind, he says, as he’d been diving in France.) Since March, the mask has been approved as personal protective equipment, or PPE, in France, and about 40,000 have been distributed so far. (In the US, Food and Drug Administration's authorization to use the masks as an N95 equivalent is pending, though it has gotten the green light as a reusable face shield for medical workers.) Now the team is focused on testing methods, as cases of the disease quietly surge in regions with little access to testing kits, as well as to the machines and chemical reagents required to process them. Even in the US, diagnostic testing has been slow since the start and hindered by bottlenecks at lab testing companies, although a few companies, including Cepheid and Abbott Laboratories, have received emergency approvals from the FDA for faster, point-of-care tests.

Please select this link to read the complete article from WIRED.

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