Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Little Social Venture Start-Ups That Could: Day 1

Every day, up to the end of the month, we’ll profile one group that proves that global impact can come in small, energetic packages to help communities around the world.

We’ll kick things off with a veritable engine of developing world research that is igniting scientific exploration among developing world scientists: Seedings Labs.

The Cambridge social enterprise collects laboratory equipment academic and private sector research labs in the U.S., sorts, refurbishes it when necessary, and ships it to scientists who have passed the Seeding Labs selection criteria. Under the leadership of Echoing Green fellow, Nina Dudnick, the group has grown from a student-run outfit at Harvard to an independent technology transfer powerhouse.

Their mission has multiple benefits in different flavors:
  • Greening Science: They are reducing the burden of having to discard surplus laboratory equipment by giving it second tour of duty in labs around the world.

  • Democratizing Research: They are creating a generation of scientists that are home-grown, spurring local and unique research pathways, and opening the science education for students.

  • Reversing the Brain Drain: It’s empowering scientists who would otherwise not go back to their countries after receiving advanced training in the West.

  • Sustaining Discovery and the Next Great Minds Behind Them: This is not your weekend lab garage sale. By mapping their database of emerging research with a real-time inventory system, they can optimize shipments to the best candidates for cutting edge research in far corners of the earth.

How YOU can HELP!
  • Back them with your checkbook. All our featured start-ups have real expenses behind their fantastic stories. Send Seedings Labs some Holiday cheer and when one of their scientists makes Nature, you’ll feel like your own private Wellcome Trust.

  • Sign up to volunteer: If you want to see the operation first hand, contact Seeding Labs for volunteer opportunities. Packing boxes full of PCR machines and flow cytometers will energize the geek inside you on a Saturday morning

  • Spread the Word: Do you work in a lab that has some extra lab equipment looking for a new home? Talk to your boss and show them how Seeding Labs can find a new home in an exotic location. Your corporate social responsibility committee will be the coolest kids in town.
More at Seedings Labs

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Off-roading to save babies!

The "car parts incubator", a project of our colleague - Dr. Kris Olson - was featured in the New York Times. Kris was also the subject of a Boston Globe profile describing his other projects. 

This is a neo-natal incubator built entirely from parts scavenged from an automobile. The prototype featured here used parts from a Toyata4Runner.

One of the important learnings here is that the best way to sustainably implement technology-based solutions in the developing world is to include durable mechanisms of distribution and local technical support, very early in the design and development process.   

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Have SMS, Will Operate :)

I thought I had read everything involving mobile phones and global health applications. We've covered cell phones as surgical lights, as health information companions, diagnostic and compliance platforms, etc.

I've never come across the cell phone as a surgical coaching aide. That the experience of Dr. David Nott from Médecins Sans Frontières during a risky life-saving arm amputation of a Congolese boy. Thanks for quick thinking (and thumbs) Dr. Nott received step-by-step instructions from his friend Professor Meirion Thomas back in London via SMS on how to perform a forequarter amputation.

The BBC interviews Dr. Nott:

Hat tip to Medgadget

Monday, December 8, 2008

Swiping for Health: Utah Researchers unveil diagnostic possibilities

Scientists Marc Porter and Michael Granger from the University of Utah have devised a method that takes advantage of a phenomenon known as giant magnetoresistance (GMR) to detect various disease markers. GMR is a Nobel prize winning discovery that has been known for 20 years:
Magnetoresistance is the change in a material's resistance to electrical current when an external magnetic field is applied to the material. That change usually is not more than 1 percent. But some multilayer materials display a change in resistance of as much as 80 percent. That is giant magnetoresistance.

Porter and Granger created a prototype reader that uses this phenomenon to detected changes in GMR caused by the presence of spots along the sensor. By swiping the sensor along the GMR reader, the sequence of spots (arguably the presence of some pathogen) creates a unique signature that gets interpreted as a diagnostic identifier. The device is currently PC sized but the team is working on miniaturizing the components for portability.

This is a pretty interesting approach to diagnostics and I wonder if it offers an alternative to the advances of lap on a chip technology, or if will become another form of diagnostic vacuum tubes.

More at Eureka Alert

Little Devices in the Wind: Part II

Some time ago we featured a series of mini wind turbines by a group of researchers in Hong Kong. A great follow up is the Febot which combines a single AA-battery socket with a mini turbine to make a single charging station that sticks on the side of a window. They should make a version that can stick to your bike handlebars.

More at Yanko Design

Malaria Vaccine Launched

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the development of a series of vaccine candidates against Malaria. The results are coming in from Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania and they show that one candidates to be 30 to 50% effective. That may be a little too low to make a huge impact. The investment seems to be paying off in a step in the right direction though.

More at Foreign Policy

The History and Science of LEDs

The Appropriate technology gurus at AIDG have a wonderful collection of LED videos that shows the history behind the ubiquitous light source, and a series of tutorials on a DIY LED. Sounds like a weekend project.

More at AIDG