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Oct 16, 2003, 04:00 (8 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Thomas Goetz)

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"Since cholera kills by driving fluids from the body, the treatment is to pump liquid back in, as fast as possible. The one proven technology, an intravenous saline drip, has a few drawbacks. An easy-to-use, computer-regulated IV can cost $2,000--far too expensive to deploy against a large outbreak. Other systems cost as little as 35 cents, but they're too complicated for unskilled caregivers. The result: People die unnecessarily.

"'It's a health problem, but it's also a design problem,' says Timothy Prestero, a onetime Peace Corps volunteer who cofounded a group called Design That Matters. Leading a team of MIT engineering students, Prestero, who has master's degrees in mechanical and oceanographic engineering, focused on the drip chamber and pinch valve controlling the saline flow rate.

"But the team needed more medical expertise. So Prestero turned to ThinkCycle, a Web-based industrial-design project that brings together engineers, designers, academics, and professionals from a variety of disciplines. Soon, some physicians and engineers were pitching in--vetting designs and recommending new paths. Within a few months, Prestero's team had turned the suggestions into an ingenious solution. Taking inspiration from a tool called a rotameter used in chemical engineering, the group crafted a new IV system that's intuitive to use, even for untrained workers. Remarkably, it costs about $1.25 to manufacture, making it ideal for mass deployment. Prestero is now in talks with a medical devices company; the new IV could be in the field a year from now..."

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