An innovative University at Buffalo air sterilization technology that the U.S. Department of Defense is funding to protect troops on the battlefield soon may be protecting hospital patients from deadly infections, thanks to recent funding from the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR).
The funding comes as hospital-acquired infections, many of which are becoming increasingly difficult to treat, are on the rise.
The $674,900 grant from NYSTAR’s Technology Transfer Investment Program will allow Buffalo BioBlower Technologies, the UB spin-off company that licensed the technology from UB, to develop a health-care prototype and take it into clinical trials.
“Receiving this NYSTAR grant is a major boost that will help ensure the success of Buffalo BioBlower,” said Robert Genco, D.D.S., Ph.D., vice provost and director of the UB Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR). “We are very confident that in the next few years, companies like Buffalo BioBlower and others spun out of the university will make major contributions to economic development in Western New York.”
The NYSTAR funding will support construction of a test room for evaluating a prototype for health-care applications.
The goal of the award is the development of a health-care division for Buffalo BioBlower Technologies, potentially creating up to 100 new jobs.
In tests funded by the Department of Defense and conducted last fall, the UB team has shown it can eradicate greater than 99.9999 percent of the spores of an anthrax surrogate in an airstream, according to the researchers.
“That’s better than any conventional technology on the market.” said James F. Garvey, Ph.D., UB professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences and co-founder and chief technical officer of Buffalo BioBlower Technologies with John Lordi, Ph.D., chief executive officer. Lordi is a research professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“We input one million live, active spores of a thermally resistant bacterium into the BioBlower and only one live spore comes out,” said Garvey.
Through compressive heating and pressure oscillations that break up and kill pathogens, the dual-use technology called BioBlower can be expected to rapidly and continuously eradicate even the smallest of airborne biological pathogens, such as bacteria, spores, viruses, influenza including bird flu, pollen and mold.
That contrasts with the current conventional technology, HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) paper filters, which trap large airborne spores and need to be changed frequently, stored carefully and subsequently destroyed.
“With HEPA filters, the spores are still alive, once they’re collected, waiting to infect somebody,” Garvey said. “We kill them at the source.”
The issue could not be more critical to the health-care market.
“The Centers for Disease Control says going to the hospital is the fourth biggest killer in this country,” Garvey noted, because of the high incidence of hospital-acquired infections, a problem that he said is contributing rapidly to spiraling health-care costs.
In addition, the device could be made compact enough to turn an ordinary hospital room into an instant isolation unit, Garvey said, or as large as necessary to install in a building’s HVAC unit to provide purified air throughout an entire facility.
Buffalo BioBlower’s administrative office is in UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.
Lordi says that’s a clear advantage, especially in light of the recent NYSTAR funding.
“We will benefit from interactions with the researchers in the Center of Excellence, as well as with all of the people in health care on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus as we learn more about the whole problem of infection control,” Lordi said.
In Department of Defense funding announced last year by U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, Buffalo BioBlower received $1.5 million to develop a prototype for military applications, now being built in space the company rents at Calspan Corp. in Cheektowaga, N.Y.
The system is one of a handful from around the U.S. that the Department of Defense has chosen to test this fall as a candidate for future procurement.
Other investments in the company and its technology includes $200,000 in original Department of Defense funding, matched by $50,000 from UB’s Center for Advanced Technology in Biomedical and Bioengineering and $20,000 from UB STOR’s Product Development Fund for studies on the technology’s mechanism.