Feb 11, 2016 | By Alec

Over the past few weeks the world has been shocked by the outbreak of the Zika virus. Carried by mosquitoes, it can cause microcephaly in unborn babies, leaving them with an abnormally small head and prevents their brain from developing naturally. Having already affected more than 4,000 newborn babies in Brazil alone, it’s a serious health concern. While biomedical scientists everywhere are looking for solutions, a team of students from the University of Texas are working on their own weapon: a 3D printed test kit that enables you to see if the mosquitoes in your area carry the virus.

If fact, this is just a fortunate coincidence, as a team of undergrads in the Freshman Research Initiative at the University of Texas were already working on a tool for testing the mosquitoes in your own backyard for various viruses. “Then, I heard it in the news and I was like, ‘Wait we're working on that!'” says student Rachel Boaz. That this DIY tool can also be used to locate the Zika virus is thus a very lucky opportunity, but is therefore not less impressive. As student Nicole Pederson describes the project, “It's just a quick and really efficient way of being able to identify whether or not a mosquito is carrying a disease,” she tells reporters from KeyeTV.

What’s more, this tool is actually a viable option for use in Latin America – ground zero for the virus – as well, as it has been completely designed to be cheap, portable and easy to use. “They'd be able to tell right then in that particular area what's going on,” Rachel Boaz reveals. The project is overseen by Tim Riedel, a research educator and clinical assistant professor in the University of Texas College of Natural Sciences, who emphasized that the entire concept and the current prototype has been entirely developed by his students.

So what is it? Well, the currently prototype is essentially a 3D printed box, with a scanning system featuring a heat source and LED lights. The ‘patient’ is pressed inside, though there’s a low survival rate. “Literally, just squish it in there and be able to tell if it has certain diseases such as Zika [and] malaria,” explains Boaz. The machine will read the DNA of the mosquito, and about an hour later the results will be revealed, with a bright light going off if the virus is detected. “We're trying to keep it as simple as possible,” adds Riedel.

Though it’s already working well, the team is aiming to develop a commercial machine that can be brought to market within the next few years. “My parents are in the healthcare industry. They're nurses and they work on sick people a lot so I thought, 'Why don't I try doing something that relates to how to make their job easier,’” adds Jessica Popoola. It is thus a tool for the general healthcare industry, rather than an epidemic-fighting tool. With the help of an app, the results could be analyzed and sent to public health agencies for monitoring. Theoretically, the same principle could even be extended to testing bodily fluids or food for bacteria, thus truly democratizing healthcare. But in the meantime it would be fantastic if concerned pregnant women can benefit from this 3D printed tool.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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