For newborn infants in hospitals, the smallest exposure to germs can be deadly. A new device, created by Queen’s graduates, ensures that smartphones are one less risk to an infant’s health.
The device, called a CleanSlate, eradicates germs from a phone in 30 seconds using UV light — the time it takes to properly wash your hands.
On Oct. 29, the device was awarded $657,000 in prize money from a business pitch competition in Buffalo, NY. The money will be used for further develop the business and to bring the invention into more hospitals across North America.
The idea originated in CEO and Queen’s alumnus Taylor Mann in his fourth year after a conversation with friend who worked as a nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Kingston General Hospital (KGH).
The nurse explained to Mann, ArtSci ’14, that mobile devices were banned in her unit, as they are a key carrier of superbugs — bacteria that has become resistant to antibiotics.
“The bacteria on cellphones can be harmful to such young, little babies in there,” Scott Mason, Chief of Business Development for the CleanSlate team, said. At Queen’s, Mason served as ASUS president and later campaigned to be AMS president.
However, the ban restricted parents with seriously ill or underdeveloped babies — who, in a NICU, often have low chances of survival — from taking photographs and creating memories of their children.
The nurse told Mann that many parents had recently been caught attempting to skirt the ban, which put her fellow nurses in a difficult situation.
While the nurses understood the parents’ desire to photograph the children, they couldn’t put the babies at risk.
After investigating further, Mann discovered that similar bans upon electronic devices had been placed in other intensive care units, as along with specialized medical facilities, emergency and operating rooms.
From there, Mann joined forces with four other Queen’s students — Oleg Baranov, Sci ’15; Scott Mason, ArtSci ’14; Geoffrey Hoy, Sci ’14; and Serena Li, Comm ’16 — as well as working with the University’s Innovation Connector to get CleanSlate to market.
“It’s the incubator run out of the school. It’s a really amazing program. That’s how we all met,” Mason said. He added that the nurse who inspired the device was also a part of the program.
Since then, Hoy and Li have left the team, while Western graduate Graeme Clark and Tyler Lypaczewski, Sci ’11, have joined.
“We wanted to do something that was beneficial to the world. We didn’t want to build another app. We wanted to do something that would have a real-world application.”
The team spent time at KGH speaking with nurses and doctors about the unique needs of medical staff in a hospital setting while creating their concept.
In a meeting with hospital executives, the team asked if such a device would serve a purpose at KGH. After the hospital gave the go-ahead, the CleanSlate team set to work.
According to Mason, the CleanSlate extends far beyond smartphones. It can also be applied to other medical devices, such as glucometers or digital thermometers, and sanitizes “fast enough so that it wouldn’t interfere with a doctor’s line of work”.
“[It doesn’t] just kill your typical, run-of-the-mill cold virus,” he said. He said CleanSlate kills a multitude of “dangerous hospital pathogens”, including Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).
He added that hospital patients weren’t the only demographic to benefit from smartphone usage.
“Doctors are [now] using medical calculator apps or communication apps on their cellphones that help them to be a better doctor,” Mason said.
The device was taken to the 43North competition in Buffalo. Out of nearly 11,000 applications, CleanSlate ranked second place.
The 43North competition markets itself as the world’s largest business competition, allotting $5 million in prizes annually.
Previous winners have included HemoGenyx, a biopharmaceutical company seeking to treat blood diseases like leukemia, and Energy Intelligence, which creates clean energy using the motion of vehicles.
Having been tested at three Ontario hospitals so far, a CleanSlate machine costs around $4,500 and is around the size of a microwave oven. Mann said the device could be placed in hospital entranceways, to be both convenient and effective.
Canadian hospitals predominantly use disinfectant wipes, which contain bleach or hydrogen peroxide and can damage sensitive touch-screens on smartphones. A downside of the CleanSlate technology is that the UV radiation can cause white or plastic casing to become prematurely yellow, according to a CBC article about the invention.
Moving forward, Mason said the team plans to take their business across the border, as the abundant hospitals in the United States are their target market.
The newest version of the CleanSlate has received pre-orders from hospitals and clinics in Ontario and New York, with hopes to ship out early in 2016.
“We can get a higher and more effective kill rate, with better sanitization, for all these devices that are not being cleaned effectively right now, and improve hospital occupational health and safety,” he said.
“And do it in 30 seconds, that’s the kicker.”
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