As far as mobile, ad-hoc medical labs for developing countries go, you can’t get any more mobile or ad-hoc than something the size of a postage stamp. One Harvard University chemist has developed an ultraportable “paper” chip that can diagnose killer diseases like malaria, HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis for just a penny at a time. A finger prick’s worth of blood on one side of the paper, according to inventor George Whitesides, produces a colorful, tree-like pattern on the other that indicates what ails you. The surprisingly low-tech secret? Water-repellant comic-book ink.

Saturated through several layers of paper, the ink conducts a patient’s blood into the forked channels, where it reacts with embedded chemicals to produce the bloom of diagnostic colors—not unlike a home pregnancy kit, Whiteside notes, except that the chips are smaller, cheaper, and test for multiple diseases simultaneously.

Plus, instead of a simple positive or negative reading, the results also illustrate the severity of the disease. Sophisticated technology this isn’t, but for people living in remote parts of Africa or Asia, the chips can quickly identify those who warrant more serious medical attention, as well as individuals who need to be quarantined immediately to stem the spread of a contagion.

Whitesides and his team are working with a cellphone manufacturer to develop an app that would tell patients the results of their tests in the absence of medical professionals. “Doctors are as scarce a resource as money is,” he tells CNN.

+ CNN Tech

+ Whitesides Research Group

Via Popular Science