According to George M. Whitesides, the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and a Wyss Institute faculty member, “chemistry has the opportunity of a century to do something profound for society.”
Whitesides, who is heralded as one of the most innovative chemists of our time, has created a new kind of medical diagnostic test that relies on a commonplace material—paper—to overcome a widespread problem: how to supply health care in a world in which cost is everything.
Diagnostic testing is an easy first-treatment step at any urban hospital, but it is often an unobtainable luxury in remote areas. Using a desktop-style printer that prints with wax-based ink on ordinary sheets of paper, Whitesides and his colleagues have developed a new diagnostic, roughly the size of a postage stamp, which costs approximately one cent per test. This tiny square will, when fully developed, be used to diagnose diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. Each test is imprinted with a series of zones that fill with fluid when the chemically treated paper “chip” is dipped into urine or blood. The paper changes color to indicate different conditions, and medical personnel in remote areas can scan the square with a cellular phone, emailing it to a central laboratory computer for rapid reading of the test.
With a belief that everyday objects, such as paper, can be powerful solutions to complex problems facing the world today, Whitesides employs the vast resources available at Harvard to benefit the global community. “From an ethical perspective,” he notes, “it is imperative that we use the technical expertise that we enjoy in the developed world to help improve the health and living standards of others.”
From ReSOURCES, April 2010