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How a Paper Toy Could Become a Public Health Boon in the Poorest Countries

Man dropping crumpled paper in bin surrounded with paper aeroplanesMan dropping crumpled paper in bin surrounded with paper aeroplanes
A simple innovation that could have major impact.Nicholas Rigg—Getty Images

A version of this essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.

In our Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily newsletter, we like to chronicle the groundbreaking advancements in technology that are helping transform health care. Tools like CRISPR gene-editing, blockchain for tracking medical claims, and artificial intelligence which can speed up the drug development process are heralding a brave new world in medicine.

But innovation can come in low-tech forms, too. Consider the “paperfuge,” a 20-cent modified version of an ancient spinning toy that can be used like a regular centrifuge to test whether or not blood samples carry HIV, malaria, and other pathogens. The device is made up of two polymer-based paper discs, fishing line, wooden or plastic handles, straws, and plastic tubes that contain the blood samples. (Check out a video of the paperfuge in action over at CNN.)

Created by a team of Stanford University scientists, the paperfuge could prove a major boon to emerging markets where lab equipment such as traditional centrifuges may be sparse, and where difficulty accessing electricity could make such technology moot even when it is available. And the parts for the paperfuge can be 3D-printed, too.

“Ultimately, our present work serves as an example of frugal science: leveraging the complex physics of a simple toy for global health applications,” wrote the Stanford team in Nature.