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8th January 2015

Pedal your way to a blood centrifuge

Low-tech solutions for developing countries rank pretty high on my ‘cool medtech’ list. Lever-powered wheelchairs, origami microscopes, vinegar based cancer strip tests. They’re all disrupting the idea that medical devices are flashy, high-end bulky, and of course expensive.

The newest of the lot, came from a visionary British designer, Jack Albert Trew. Called the Spokefuge, his idea came to tackle the lack of access to electricity in rural Africa. His invention: a pedal-powered blood centrifuge, connected to bicycle wheel that can produce din under 10GBP.

“Something just clicked, I had seen bicycles being used to power medical equipment in rural clinics, but I wondered if a bicycle could become the equipment instead.” Jack told Dezeen.

And so he did. He created a device using a 3D printer that can centrifuge blood by pedalling for 10 minutes getting the blood ready for testing.

He also came up with a clever way to show when the blood samples are separated: a simple colour chart. By placing different coloured pouches on the wheel (parts where you can insert the blood tube) he says the appropriate speed is reached once you see the colours merge in a white hue.

“Understandably this is not the most calculated control measure however it is a far simpler alternative and keeps costs low,” he said.

Though Jack’s idea is undeniably ingenious, he wasn’t the first to use a bike wheel to separate blood. It was actually Dr Awojobi from Nigeria, who runs his clinic on home-made medtech form corn cob fuelled sterilizers through suction tubes made form inner bike tiers. And yes, his very own hand-built blood centrifuge.

Why does blood need to be centrifuged?

The role of a centrifuge is to keep the blood turning at a very high speed to separate it into components. The most important part they look at is the ratio between red and white blood cells called the hematocrit. It comes as a basic first test to any blood test and can diagnose a range of conditions including anaemia, leukaemia or bone marrow failure.

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