Manu Prakash, PhD

Stanford assistant professor of bioengineering, M.S. MIT in Applied Physics, B. Tech from Indian Institute of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering.

Category of Humanitarian Benefit: Knowledge Sharing

Short Biography/Background

Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford, received his Ph.D. and M.S. from MIT in Applied Physics and his B.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering.

Prakash, who grew up in the mega-cities of India without a refrigerator, is a leader in the frugal design movement. His lab is currently developing a number of global health solutions, leveraging smartphone technology and the cost savings of emerging manufacturing techniques such as 3D printers, laser cutters and conductive ink printing. Other contributions include:

—An electromagnetic patch that non-invasively detects live parasitic worms in infected patients


—A fully functional paper microscope, which costs less than a dollar in materials, that can be used for diagnosing blood-borne diseases such as malaria, African sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis and Chagas.


—An ultra-low-cost oral cancer screening tool that attaches to a smartphone.


As Prakash field tests his global health tools, he is also exploring how to use these tools to develop “human capital” in resource-constrained settings, a strategy that would generate more jobs and build the infrastructure to provide these services locally. “We are looking at various ways to bring appropriate tools and training to these young college graduates who often are unemployed,” he said.

Project Name and Description

Prakash and his colleague, Hongquan Li, have built a high-speed, malaria-detecting microscope device that they’ve called Octopi. It can automatically scan entire blood-smeared slides for malaria parasites, using a neural network trained on more than 20,000 existing images. Octopi works off a phone charger. It analyzes slides at speeds that are 120 times faster than traditional microscopy. Weighing fewer than seven pounds, it’s portable. And at a do-it-yourself cost of $250 to $500, it’s cheaper than many basic microscopes or other automated slide-analyzing devices.

Article in “The Atlantic”: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/08/cheap-automatic-microscope-could-change-how-diseases-are-detected/596440/

Images of Octopi: https://twitter.com/PrakashLab/status/1144453714637230083

Technical paper: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2019/06/27/684423.full.pdf


Access to quantitative, robust, yet affordable diagnostic tools is necessary to reduce the global infectious disease burden. Manual microscopy has served as a bedrock for diagnostics with wide adaptability, although at a cost of tedious labor and human errors. Automated robotic microscopes are poised to enable a new era of smart field microscopy but current platforms remain cost prohibitive and largely inflexible, especially for resource poor and field settings. Here we present Octopi, a low-cost ($250-$500) and reconfigurable autonomous microscopy platform capable of automated slide scanning and correlated bright-field and fluorescence imaging.

Octopi opens up the possibility of a large robotic microscope network for improved disease diagnosis while providing an avenue for collective efforts for development of modular instruments.