Scientists Detect Malaria in 15 Minutes with 20-cent Paper Centrifuge

Reading time: 2 – 4 minutes

Stanford bioengineers have created an ultra-low-cost, hand-spun centrifuge that separates blood into its individual components in only 1.5 minutes [1]. Inspired by an ancient children’s toy called a whirligig, the “paperfuge” can be used to detect malaria in blood in just 15 minutes.


Fundamental to any medical diagnostics facility, centrifuges are used hospitals, clinics and laboratories around the world to separate fluids into different components by spinning the specimen. During the high-speed spin, centrifugal forces push denser material outwards. The centrifuge is used to separate cell, subcellular organelles, proteins, viruses, and nucleic acids. While centrifuges are crucial in regions of the world where tropical diseases are common, they often aren’t available due to high cost, weight and electricity needs.

Published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering [2], a Stanford research team describes a new device dubbed the “paperfuge.” The study demonstrates the separation of pure plasma from whole blood in less than 1.5 minutes and isolation of malaria parasites in 15 minutes. Built from 20-cents worth of paper, twine and plastic, the paperfuge can reach speeds of 125,000 revolutions per minute and exert centrifugal forces equivalent to 30,000 g’s. That’s approximately 100x faster than previous non-electrical efforts and is considered the fastest rotational speed ever recorded for a human-powered device.

Some of the most urgent global health problems today demand innovative solutions that are both inexpensive and scalable. The study authors write that “the simplicity of manufacturing our proposed device will enable immediate mass distribution of a solution urgently needed in the field. Ultimately, our present work serves as an example of frugal science: leveraging the complex physics of a simple toy for global health applications.”

The paperfuge is the third invention from Manu Prakash’s bioengineering lab at Stanford University. Driven by a frugal design philosophy, bioengineers rethink traditional medical tools to lower costs and bring scientific capabilities out of the lab and into hands of health care workers in resource-poor areas.


  1. Inspired by a whirligig toy, Stanford bioengineers develop a 20-cent, hand-powered blood centrifuge. Stanford University. 2017 Jan10.
  2. Bhamla et al. Hand-powered ultralow-cost paper centrifuge. Nature Biomedical Engineering 1, Article number: 0009 (2017). doi:10.1038/s41551-016-0009
About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.