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New Decontamination Method Kills Prions

Originally Published MDDI November 2005 Industry News New Decontamination Method Kills Prions Maria Fontanazza

Originally Published MDDI November 2005

Industry News

New Decontamination Method Kills Prions

Maria Fontanazza

A new sterilization method uses radio waves to clean surgical instruments.

Radio-frequency gas-plasma cleaning, a technology used in the electronics industry, has been found useful for medical devices. The decontamination method clears surgical instruments of prions. These are the proteins that cause the fatal brain disorder called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The new sterilization method could be available to the device industry within two years.

Developed at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the method uses radio waves to stimulate molecules of harmless gases. The molecules clean instrument surfaces by breaking down traces of biological tissue. These traces are then converted to nontoxic gases.

Sterilization's aim is to destroy pathogens on the surfaces of instruments. However, residue often remains on surfaces after conventional processes. For example, prions stick to metal surfaces. They can also withstand high temperatures. Prion diseases, which include mad cow disease, resist inactivation using standard cleaning processes. These neurodegenerative disorders are extremely debilitating and always fatal. The gas-plasma process is supposed to remove all organic materials, including the destructive proteins.

“A feature of the method is the very low levels to which contamination can be reduced,” says Helen Baxter, PhD, a researcher at the university's school of chemistry. “Our work on hospital-cleaned and -sterilized instruments shows that these are typically contaminated with 100–500 µg of protein. Plasma cleaning takes that down at least three orders of magnitude.” Baxter is part of the Medical Instrument Decontamination and Scanning (MIDAS) Research Group.

Surgical instruments, like those above, can be cleaned with gas plasma to remove prions, which cause fatal neurodegenerative diseases.

The university has patented the technology and is looking for partners to help develop a commercial system. It is now in discussions with partners about conducting trials to demonstrate the technique in a working sterilization department.

Gas-plasma cleaning might also enable hospitals to reprocess instruments. “Since conventional sterilization alone does not deactivate the infective agent of prion diseases, many instruments cannot be reused,” says Patricia Erskine, PhD. “For patients, our technology has the benefit of reducing this risk. For healthcare providers, we can ensure that surgical instruments can be reused and allow them to bring stockpiled instruments back into service.” Erskine is a researcher at the school of chemistry and part of the MIDAS group.

Detailed information about the technology was published in the August issue of the Journal of General Virology.

Copyright ©2005 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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