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Clinical Review

Innovative low cost technologies for biomedical research and diagnosis in developing countries

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.329.7475.1160 (Published 11 November 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:1160
  1. Josefina Coloma, program director1,
  2. Eva Harris (eharris@socrates.berkeley.edu), assistant professor2
  1. 1 Sustainable Sciences Institute, San Francisco, CA, USA
  2. 2 Division of Infectious Diseases, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
  1. Correspondence to: E Harris

    Introduction

    The relation between science, technology, and economic development is unquestionable. However, in the poorest countries of the world, this relation is tenuous at best, mainly due to the fact that science and technology typically require a large amount of investment in terms of both capital and higher education. In this article, we document the ingenuity and innovative approaches of our colleagues in developing countries who conduct biomedical research and laboratory diagnosis with limited resources. Not only is what they have achieved laudable, but there is much that the rest of the world can and should learn from these examples.

    Adapting and innovating

    The lack of resources in academic and state laboratories in the developing world produces a creative pressure that forces scientists to invent and reuse as much as possible. The innovations range from substitute equipment, recycling of otherwise disposable materials, and adaptation of cell lines to new temperatures or growth media to simplification of protocols and production of home made kits and reagents.16 For example, plastic pipette tips, consumed in large quantities and usually disposed of after one use, can be reused for certain procedures after disinfection and extensive washing. To make the process more efficient and less expensive, an ingenious Bolivian researcher, Nataniel Mamani, created a tip washer from a plastic jar and inner tubing. The tips fit perfectly into the tubing, allowing water to pass through and effectively wash out the bleach and soap used to clean them (fig 1).7 This simple contraption can save a laboratory hundreds of dollars a month.

    Fig 1

    Mamani's pipette tip washer: economic and effective

    Summary points

    Researchers in the developed world can learn much from the ingenuity and passion of colleagues in developing countries

    Working in resource poor settings fosters creativity and a mindset for conservation and better management of resources

    Understanding …

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