Copper Kills Superbugs

In China, it was called “qi,” the symbol for health. In Egypt it was called “ankh,” the symbol for eternal life. For the Phoenicians, the reference was synonymous with Aphrodite—the goddess of love and beauty.

These ancient civilizations were referring to copper, a material that cultures across the globe have recognized as vital to our health for more than 5,o00 years. When influenzas, bacteria like E. coli, superbugs like MRSA, or even coronaviruses land on most hard surfaces, they can live for up to four to five days. But when they land on copper, and copper alloys like brass, they die within minutes. “We’ve seen viruses just blow apart,” says Bill Keevil, professor of environmental healthcare at the University of Southampton. “They land on copper and it just degrades them.”

Read more: Copper kills coronavirus. Why aren’t our surfaces covered in it?

Low-Cost Breathing Ventilators

The high price of machine ventilators forces many hospitals in the poorest regions of the world to rely on a simple solution known as an Ambu Bag that requires constant manual pressure in order to get oxygen to the lungs.The Umbulizer is a mechanically powered version of the Ambu Bag.

More info & on-going efforts to design low-cost (incl. DIY/3d-printed) ventilators:

Biological Pest Control: Bat Towers

At the turn of the twentieth century, Dr. Charles A. Campbell, a physician and former city bacteriologist in San Antonio, Texas, began the first experiments with attracting bats to artificial roosts. Although he had the highest regard for bats, the motive behind his experiments was not that he thought bats needed homes. The real reason was to find a way to control a disease that caused millions of deaths throughout the world each year: malaria. In his native Texas, mosquitoes and disease rendered countless acres of fertile land uninhabitable, and Campbell, who treated victims of malaria, knew the suffering it caused. [Read more…]

Non-Electric Hearing Aids Outperform Modern Devices

Most people with hearing problems are not using hearing aids, mainly because the electronic devices often do not provide enough benefit. Research shows that non-electric hearing aids from earlier centuries are performing significantly better.

[Read more…]

Low-tech Baby Care

Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) is the brainchild of Colombian pediatrician Edgar Rey, who introduced it to the Instituto Materno Infantil in 1978. It was an idea born out of desperation. The institute served the city’s poorest—those who lived crammed in the rickety makeshift dwellings in the foothills of the surrounding mountains. At the time, this was the biggest neonatal unit in all of Colombia, responsible for delivering 30,000 babies a year.

Overcrowding was so bad that three babies would have to share an incubator at a time and the rate of cross-infection was high. Death rates were spiraling, and so too was the level of abandonment. Many young, impoverished mothers who never even got to touch their babies found it easier just to take off.

Scouting around for a solution to these problems, Rey happened upon a paper on the physiology of the kangaroo. It mentioned how at birth, kangaroos are bald and roughly the size of a peanut—very immature, just like a human pre-term baby. Once in its mother’s pouch, the kangaroo receives thermal regulation from the direct skin-to-skin contact afforded by its lack of hair. It then latches onto its mother’s nipple, where it remains until it has grown to roughly a quarter of its mother’s weight, when it is finally ready to emerge into the world.

This struck a chord with Rey. He went back to the institute and decided to test it out. He trained mothers of premature babies to carry them just as kangaroos do. Working alongside his colleague Hector Martinez, he taught them the importance of breastfeeding and discharged them just as soon as their babies were able. The results were remarkable. Death rates and infection levels dropped immediately. Overcrowding was reduced because hospital stays were much shorter, incubators were freed up, and the number of abandoned babies fell.

Read more: Kangaroo care—why keeping baby close is better for everyone, Ars Technica. Thanks to Tim Miller.

Spinning Toy Reinvented as Low-tech Centrifuge

Growing up in India, Manu Prakash entertained himself with a bottle cap that spun around on two strings that he tugged with his fingers. As a physical biologist at Stanford University in California, he is now transforming that simple toy, called a whirligig, into a cheap tool to help diagnose diseases such as malaria.

Other researchers have come up with low-tech, inexpensive centrifuges that used salad spinners3 and egg beaters4, but these devices could manage only around 1,200 rotations per minute (r.p.m.) and took too long to process samples, says Prakash.

Hoping to do better, his team went on a shopping spree to a toy store, collecting spinning gizmos and filming them with a high-speed camera. Yo-yos spun too slowly (and required training to use). But whirligigs were both easy to operate and reached speeds of 10,000 r.p.m., comparable to a commercial centrifuge.

See & read more at Nature. Thanks to Rodger Kram & Austin Liu.