Skip to main content

Low-cost 3D-printed thermos could help diagnose Zika virus by testing saliva

zika thermos 20160411 161704
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a rapid, low-cost genetic test for the Zika virus that could cost as little as $2 to manufacture and doesn’t require any electricity or technical know-how to use.

The size of a regular soda can, the test simply requires potential patients to provide a saliva sample. A removable slide/cassette inside the thermos changes color to reveal whether or not the virus has been detected. The test kit itself ia made up of a thermos bottle, an integrated heating element that uses a chemical reaction normally seen in portable military rations, and a 3D-printed lid that holds all of the components together.

Zika Test cut-away _0The test could be particularly useful since, at present, the only approved diagnostic tools to indicate the presence of Zika involve sensitive laboratory equipment.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has approved, on an emergency basis, only laboratory-based molecular tests for the Zika virus,” Changchun Liu, research assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Digital Trends. “However, [these tests] require a well-trained technician and expensive instrumentation — conditions that are not optimal for point of care diagnostic applications.”

Rapid diagnosis is extremely important for the Zika virus, particularly when it comes to pregnant women who have been infected. The creation of a field diagnostic tool therefore represents a possible major breakthrough.

The University of Pennsylvania’s test takes about 40 minutes to run, and in preliminary studies proved to be as sensitive as the so-called RT-PCR laboratory test, which is used for diagnosing the virus at present.

Liu describes the thermos-based genetic test as a “proof of concept,” and says that more experiments must be done before it can be adapted for medical use — including further experiments to ensure that it matches the most accurate available tests for the virus. However, once this is achieved, the test could be rolled out and used in areas affected by Zika.

It is hoped that a future version could even ramp up its efficiency by being able to quantify the viral load using a fluorescent dye and integrated smartphone camera.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
The best 3D printers under $500
3D printers are finally affordable. Here are the best models under $500
anycubic photon review 3d printer xxl 2

The 3D printing market has seen quite a few changes over the last few years. In just the span of a decade, the barrier to entry has dropped from well over several thousand dollars to under $200 in some cases. However, all entry and mid-level printers are not made equal. We have a few suggestions for prospective buyers and other information regarding alternatives not found on this list.

To some veterans of the 3D printing scene, this list may seem like it lacks a few of the most commonly recommended printers for newcomers. This is by design. Our list only considers printers with tested components from proven, reliable vendors. That's why we chose the Monoprice MP Mini v2 as our top pick--it's reliable and easy to use. We have avoided any printer with a frame primarily made from interlocking acrylic pieces and anything historically unreliable.
Most bang for your buck: Monoprice MP Mini v2

Read more
Ceramic ink could let doctors 3D print bones directly into a patient’s body
ceramic ink 3d printed bones bioprinting australia 2

Scientists use a novel ink to 3D print ‘bone’ with living cells

The term 3D bioprinting refers to the use of 3D printing technology to fabricate biomedical parts that, eventually, could be used to create replacement organs or other body parts as required. While we’re not at that point just yet, a number of big advances have been made toward this dream over the past couple of decades.

Read more
The future of making stuff: Inside the evolution of 3D printing with Formlabs
future of 3d printing formlabs ces 2021 castablewax40

When 3D printing went mainstream in the mid-2010s and exploded in popularity, it was about as hyped up as it possibly could be. Evangelists told us it would fundamentally transform the way goods were made, and usher in a bold new era of creative freedom. Soon, they said, we’d be able to fabricate anything we wanted on-demand, Star Trek replicator style, right from the comfort of our own homes.

But of course, 3D printing didn't really live up to that high-flying dream. Instead, it made a momentary splash and then largely returned to the fringes, gaining adoption in hobbyist workshops and cutting-edge product design labs, but not really changing the face of manufacturing in the way many hoped it might.

Read more