The Field Lab or ‘lab-in-a-box’ is a 3D printed, low-cost kit containing the necessary biological tools for running a portable and remote diagnostic laboratory. It includes a microscope, centrifuge, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) thermocycler and accompanying visualisation system. Collectively the contents allow the diagnosis of a range of viral, bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections. This robust unit can aid in, for example, diagnosing Malaria in conflict zones or other hard to reach places in Africa.
The FieldLab is the solution to any and all remote or field based diagnostics that require typical sample analysis with standard laboratory equipment. The basic design of the FieldLab will deliver this in a small carry case sized package. Its modularity paired with an affordable price tag will allow the widespread distribution of this mobile lab into unique settings, catering for any field diagnostic need. The FieldLab allows for point-of-care sample analysis following the standard medical diagnostic workflow, starting with sample preparation and centrifugation, nucleic acid manipulation techniques such as Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) extraction, targeted DNA amplification via the thermocycler and results analysis using the Gel Dock apparatus to visualise outcomes. Subsequently, further analysis can be performed using the additional modular components, for example, a spectrophotometer and a microscope. FieldLab will have its own integrated power supply system which can be charged from a normal electrical power point or wall socket. Alternative options to power the FieldBox are also available in the form of an integrated solar panel and even a port to attach to a car battery. Due to the portable and robust nature of this technology, it will be a useful tool for water testing, blood sample analysis and remote medical consulting.
FieldLab is aimed at providing a complete low-cost diagnostic solution, the comparable equipment costs for laboratory based scientific sample analysis ranges from R100 000 to R200 000. The basic FieldLab kit will cost between R15 000 and R20 000. Furthermore, the FieldLab kit with both additional modular attachments will retail for around R28 000 to R30 000.
FieldLab is, to our knowledge, the only complete portable diagnostic laboratory tool. It is important to note that the final FieldLab product will be built in Africa for Africa. The headquarters for production will be in the Eastern Cape. Not only will kit production and maintenance be local, but all designs are currently, and will remain open source.
The team consists of Lucas Lotter and Charles Faul. Charles has a background in software engineering. He enrolled at Rhodes University to pursue an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Microbiology and is currently completing his Masters Degree in Biotechnology. Charles is responsible for the FieldLab’s electronics design and provides all expertise relating to component integration, manufacture, hardware sourcing and prototype iterations. Lucas is completing his Masters Degree in Biotechnology at Rhodes University. He has a background in cellular analysis and 3D design. The FieldLab modular microscope is currently the main focus of his MSc Degree. Lucas is responsible for hardware integration design, manufacturing specifications, 3D printing, and the various prototype production runs. Charles and Lucas are the co-founders of AKILILABS, a biotechnology start-up specialising in medical diagnostics and pharmaceutical production. The company has worked in close collaboration with the university on the FieldLab product development.