Jan 11, 2015 | By Kira

A video released by Vanderbilt University shares both good news, and bad. The bad news is that every day, approximately 1300 children die of malaria. The mosquito-borne infectious disease is both preventable and treatable, yet it continues to spread in areas of the world were access to basic healthcare facilities and education is limited.

The good news, however, is that researchers from the Vanderbilt-Zambia Network for Innovation and Global Health Technology, based in Nashville, Tennessee, have teamed up with local scientist Pricsilla Lumano-Mulenga to apply 3D printing technologies in the battle against Malaria and other life-threatening diseases.

Priscilla and Vanderbilt Chemist Joseph Conrad are part of this cross-continental team. They are currently developing a malaria diagnostic device that enhances the texts that already exist on the market.

"These tests work great because they don't require any electricity, they don't require clean water or advanced technical skills," said Conrad. "What we found is that our process could enhance the best tests to make them perform even better, and it could enhance the lower performing tests and make them perform more adequately."

This form of early detection can diagnose a patient with malaria within minutes, even before they show any symptoms, meaning that they can get treated more quickly. This reduces their risk of developing a more serious infection, and prevents the transmission of the disease itself.

While the device has proven functional and potentially life saving, the distance between Nashville and Zambia was another challenge the researchers had to overcome. Yet with 3D printing technologies, distance is truly a minor obstacle.

"We could actually prototype and design devices here in our labs at Vanderbilt and then transfer those design files over email to our collaborators in Zambia," explains Conrad. Scientists in Zambia could then print them out and be field-testing them within a day.

"We think 3D printing in low-resource environments is very unique" said Conrad, who was previously a peace core volunteer in the African country, and has strong, personal ties to its people.

The 3D printer in question is now at the Matcha Research Institute in Zambia. Although it is nearly 40 miles from the nearest paved road, it is equipped with a fully functioning molecular biology and biochemistry lab, allowing the researchers to get right down to the business of saving lives.

Mrs Lumano-Mulenga, who temporarily left her husband and three children to work in Nashville alongside the Vanderbilt scientists, will return to Zambia to work with local teams fighting Malaria. "You go into the community rather than waiting for people to come into the facility," she says. As for her children, she knows that they will proud to say that their mom was active and involved in this lifesaving process.

Hopefully, this won't be the last that we hear from Joseph and Priscilla. With the aid of the national institutes of health—and with 3D printing technology on their side—they are already planning to expand the device's capability to detect other fatal diseases, such as HIV and Ebola.

"I want to see a Zambia free of malaria," says Priscilla in the video. I think we can all agree with such a statement, and thanks to their promising research, we're all one step closer to that goal.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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