Researchers repurpose technology to fight Ebola

Hospital sterilization system combined with shelter kits can help protect health workers in Africa

Dr. Michael Shannon demonstrates AsepticSure.
Dr. Michael Shannon demonstrates AsepticSure.
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One of the Design Shelter Inc. shelters, set up at Innovation Park.
One of the Design Shelter Inc. shelters, set up at Innovation Park.
Photo: 
Photo: 

Two researchers at Queen’s Innovation Park have developed a new technology they say can help fight the Ebola epidemic.

Dr. Michael Shannon, former deputy surgeon general of Canada, and Dr. Dick Zoutman, professor emeritus at Queen’s and current chief of staff at Quinte Health Care, created AsepticSure as a hospital sterilization system.

AsepticSure uses a combination of ozone and peroxide — frequently used separately as decontaminants — to sterilize rooms and kill bacteria.

“We’ve had access to some pretty nasty things,” Shannon said, adding that so far there hasn’t been a bacterial pathogen they haven’t been able to kill.

AsepticSure reaches a six log reduction in bacteria, or 99.9999 per cent, which Shannon said is a standard requirement for sterilizing scalpels to avoid infections.

He said that the gas released by AsepticSure to clean rooms mimics how the human body kills pathogens. Combining ozone and peroxide creates trioxidane, present in lymphocytes, which produce small concentrations of ozone and peroxide.

“We’re using an approach that the body uses,” he said.

“None of us would be here if it didn’t have that approach. Mother Nature sorted this out a long time ago.”

AsepticSure was tested at Quinte Health Care-Belleville General Hospital, where it was used to clean a ward. Shannon said the ward’s nurses also put various pieces of equipment into the room being cleaned, including wheelchairs and walkers, which are difficult to fully clean.

Belleville General Hospital typically experiences one to two outbreaks of MRSA (Methicilllin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) per month. After cleaning the ward in 2013, the hospital saw no new cases of MRSA over the next 12 months.

AsepticSure has to charge the room it’s cleaning over a period of time, determined by the size of the room. After the room is fully charged, an external computer alerts whoever is managing the cleaning and the machine goes into the treatment phase, where it releases the trioxidane vapor. Once the treatment is done, the machine scrubs the room, with the generator being turned off and ozone scrubbers and dehumidifiers take the ozone and humidity out of the air.

Shannon presented alongside J. Brad Matchung, president and CEO of Design Shelter Inc., a business based in Mississauga that specializes in remote infrastructure.

Matchung’s company manufactures portable structures designed to be lightweight, mobile and modular — different structures can connect to each other. The kits have served as field hospitals in Trinidad and Tobago, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, and allow patients not to have to go to urban centres for treatment.

In combination with AsepticSure, Matchung said that the individual kits can serve as a multi-bed Ebola treatment facility. The kits include the shelter, the cleaning technology, an HVAC (heating, ventilating, air conditioning) system and a generator, and can be combined to form a complex.

The shelters include openings that can serve as windows or doors and connect to other shelters through “neutral zone” anterooms. This limits the amount of cross-contamination, which Matchung said has historically been a problem with outbreak management.

Matchung’s past clients include FEMA, the World Health Organization and Health Canada. The shelter can operate in almost any weather — from -50°C to 50°C and in winds less than 120 kilometres an hour.

“The whole thing is interconnected, and in the winter — I’ve been there, you can wander around in a t-shirt, it’s so nice inside,” Shannon said of the shelter complex.

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