Wed, Aug 25, 2010 - Page 2 News List

Scientists unveil pen-size sterilizer

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

Local researchers have achieved a breakthrough by developing and producing a pen-sized device capable of sterilizing instruments and wounds, even in hard-to-reach places.

The handy device, introduced by National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Tainan, can eliminate common bacteria such as E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and thermophilic bacilli within 90 to 120 seconds, the university said.

Liao Jiunn-der (廖峻德), a professor in NCKU’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering who led the team that developed the device, envisions it as a key part of people’s first-aid kits, because it can be operated at room temperature, is non-toxic and works quickly, unlike conventional sterilization systems.

Its ability to sterilize all surfaces, including awkwardly located wounds or parts of instruments that are hard to reach, Liao said, make it ideal for oral cavity disinfection, surgical instrument sterilization and wound treatment.

The pen relies on plasma sterilization, a process in which an ionized gas with UV photons and radicals is released near the area requiring sterilization. The photons and radicals then react with and “blow up” atoms that the bacteria need to survive, the professor explained.

Before miniaturizing the system from a machine into a pen-sized device, researchers first determined optimal sterilization parameters for the micro-plasma jet system they developed.

Liao said the team’s goal is for the new “micro-plasma” device to replace laser machines, which cost between NT$4 million (US$125,000) and NT$5 million.

The plasma sterilization pen, he said, costs about one-tenth as much, and is more effective than a laser.

The research team has begun working with the university hospital to conduct clinical trials using the device to disinfect oral cavities, according to NCKU.

The development of plasma medicine began in the US and Germany last year.

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