TED2010

Frederick Balagadde: Bio-lab on a microchip

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Drugs alone can't stop disease in sub-Saharan Africa: We need diagnostic tools to match. TED Senior Fellow Frederick Balagadde shows how we can multiply the power and availability of an unwieldy, expensive diagnostic lab -- by miniaturizing it to the size of a chip.

- Inventor
TED Senior Fellow Frederick Balagadde invented the micro-chemostat, a first-of-its-kind, dime-sized piece of transparent plastic that can orchestrate the behavior of living cells. Full bio

The greatest irony in global health
00:16
is that the poorest countries
00:18
carry the largest disease burden.
00:20
If we resize the countries of the globe
00:23
in proportion to the subject of interest,
00:25
we see that Sub-Saharan Africa
00:27
is the worst hit region by HIV/AIDS.
00:29
This is the most devastating epidemic of our time.
00:32
We also see that this region
00:35
has the least capability in terms of dealing with the disease.
00:37
There are very few doctors
00:40
and, quite frankly, these countries do not have the resources
00:42
that are needed to cope
00:44
with such epidemics.
00:46
So what the Western countries,
00:48
developed countries, have generously done
00:50
is they have proposed to provide free drugs
00:52
to all people in Third World countries
00:54
who actually can't afford these medications.
00:56
And this has already saved millions of lives,
00:58
and it has prevented entire economies
01:01
from capsizing in Sub-Saharan Africa.
01:03
But there is a fundamental problem
01:06
that is killing the efforts
01:10
in fighting this disease,
01:12
because if you keep throwing
01:14
drugs out at people
01:16
who don't have diagnostic services,
01:19
you end up creating a problem of drug resistance.
01:21
This is already beginning to happen in Sub-Saharan Africa.
01:24
The problem is that,
01:27
what begins as a tragedy in the Third World
01:29
could easily become a global problem.
01:32
And the last thing we want to see
01:34
is drug-resistant strains of HIV
01:36
popping up all over the world,
01:38
because it will make treatment more expensive
01:40
and it could also restore
01:43
the pre-ARV carnage of HIV/AIDS.
01:46
I experienced this firsthand
01:48
as a high school student in Uganda.
01:50
This was in the 90s
01:52
during the peak of the HIV epidemic,
01:54
before there were any ARVs in Sub-Saharan Africa.
01:56
And during that time, I actually lost more relatives,
01:59
as well as the teachers who taught me,
02:02
to HIV/AIDS.
02:04
So this became one of the driving passions of my life,
02:06
to help find real solutions
02:09
that could address these kinds of problems.
02:12
We all know about the miracle of miniaturization.
02:16
Back in the day, computers used to fill this entire room,
02:19
and people actually used to work inside the computers.
02:22
But what electronic miniaturization has done
02:25
is that it has allowed people to shrink
02:28
technology into a cell phone.
02:30
And I'm sure everyone here enjoys cell phones
02:32
that can actually be used in the remote areas of the world,
02:34
in the Third World countries.
02:37
The good news is that the same technology
02:40
that allowed miniaturization of electronics
02:42
is now allowing us to miniaturize
02:44
biological laboratories.
02:47
So, right now, we can actually miniaturize
02:49
biological and chemistry laboratories
02:51
onto microfluidic chips.
02:54
I was very lucky to come
02:56
to the US right after high school,
02:58
and was able to work on this technology
03:00
and develop some devices.
03:02
This is a microfluidic chip that I developed.
03:05
A close look at how the technology works:
03:08
These are channels that are about the size of a human hair --
03:10
so you have integrated valves, pumps, mixers and injectors --
03:13
so you can fit entire diagnostic experiments
03:16
onto a microfluidic system.
03:19
So what I plan to do with this technology
03:22
is to actually take the current state
03:24
of the technology
03:26
and build an HIV kit
03:28
in a microfluidic system.
03:30
So, with one microfluidic chip,
03:32
which is the size of an iPhone,
03:34
you can actually diagnose
03:37
100 patients at the same time.
03:39
For each patient, we will be able to do
03:42
up to 100 different viral loads per patient.
03:44
And this is only done in four hours,
03:47
50 times faster than the current state of the art,
03:49
at a cost that will be five to 500 times cheaper
03:52
than the current options.
03:55
So this will allow us to create
03:57
personalized medicines in the Third World
03:59
at a cost that is actually achievable
04:02
and make the world a safer place.
04:05
I invite your interest
04:07
as well as your involvement
04:09
in driving this vision
04:11
to a point of practical reality.
04:13
Thank you very much.
04:15
(Applause)
04:17

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About the Speaker:

Frederick Balagadde - Inventor
TED Senior Fellow Frederick Balagadde invented the micro-chemostat, a first-of-its-kind, dime-sized piece of transparent plastic that can orchestrate the behavior of living cells.

Why you should listen

Frederick Balagadde is a research scientist in the Engineering Technologies Division at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. As a graduate student at Caltech and Stanford University, Frederick invented the micro-chemostat: a first-of-its-kind microfabricated fluidic chip that mimics a biological cell culture environment in a highly complex web of tiny pumps and human hair-sized water hoses, all controlled by a multitasking computer.

Frederick's pioneering research has attracted interest in the scientific community, including a publication in Science Magazine.

Frederick was a TEDGlobal 2009 Fellow and is a TED Senior Fellow.