Researchers from a new start-up company called LaamScience have discovered an assortment of chemicals that can be used as a nano-thin layer and be coated on clothes materials such as cotton, nylon, and polyester.
SARS virusThe chemical coating is toxic to a wide assortment of harmful microbes that cause infections, but is completely harmless to humans. The researchers predict that the chemical could work against all viruses-including major international threats such as avian flu and SARS.
Every year, millions of people suffer from infections such as the common cold, the flu, and strep throat. Medical treatment and lost job time cost literally billions of dollars. In the US, influenza alone costs $12 billion in direct medical expenses and more than 100 million sick days. Cutting a percentage of these statistics even moderately could have profound economical (and personal) effects.
The key to the product is special light-absorbing chemical dyes that essentially inactivate viruses and bacteria when exposed to visible light. The dyes convert oxygen in the air to a toxic gas that "rips apart" bacteria and viruses in less than a second, yet has no effect on human tissue. The coating doesn't wear out, but can be regenerated a limitless number of times for continual use.
The technology was developed by Stephen Michielsen, a textile researcher at North Carolina State University, and researchers at the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta. Their spin-off company, LaamScience (Laam = Light-activated anti-microbes), received $2.2 million in financial support from angel investors in the last month.
Staph bacteriaThe company hopes to take their first product, a self-sterilizing surgical mask treated with the chemical coating, to the FDA for approval for marketing by early 2008. The face mask would be primarily worn by hospital staff, where staph infections cause about 2 million infections a year, with a cost of about $30,000 per infected patient.
Since staph infections are often carried throughout the hospital on the skin of healthy people, the masks could potentially eliminate a significant cause of the bacteria. The researchers estimate that the mask could eliminate 99.9% of viruses and bacteria in less than an hour.
Besides masks, the chemical coating could be applied to sheets, pillowcases, curtains, hospital gowns and other fabrics. Possibly, the disinfectant could even be sprayed on everyday objects, used in room air purifiers, as an anti-viral filter system for planes and buses, and for military applications.
Although more testing is needed before any of these products are commercialized, this discovery has the potential to save an unimaginable amount of lives with a simple, invisible innovation.
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