Taking on the ‘silent epidemic’ Ozone – this little molecule is an invisible part of our everyday lives. It shields us from ultraviolet light, cleans our water, and in some cases, filters the air that we breathe. Now Medizone, a company based in Queens University’s Innovation Park, is tapping into one of ozone’s many properties in a revolutionary way that could potentially save thousands of lives.
What exactly is it that Medizone is trying to save thousands of people from?
It’s what their President & CEO Ed Marshall refers to as a “silent epidemic.” Every year, millions of patients around the world contract several kinds of antibiotic-resistant bacteria referred to as Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs). Treating these cases sends healthcare costs soaring and fills up valuable real estate in terms of hospital beds. The most chilling statistic: HAIs are responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 North Americans annually and is the fourth leading cause of death in the Western world behind heart failure, strokes and cancer. Healthcare facilities are losing the war against HAIs because current decontamination methods, as the numbers would suggest, aren’t effective enough in saving lives. “It’s frightening how nurturing these hospital environments are to pathogens,” says Marshall. “Whoever goes into a room might get an illness from the previous tenant. Conventional methods can do a lot of cleaning, but won’t necessarily get everything in places such as the springs underneath a bed.” Marshall thinks they have the solution to this problem. The answer lies with ozone and their device, known as the AsepticSure System.
In 2008, Marshall approached Dr. Mike Shannon, then a senior medical advisor with Medizone. Dr. Shannon had a distinguished medical career, having served the Canadian Armed Forces as Deputy Surgeon General and Director General of the Centre for Disease Control. Currently, he is president and director of Medizone’s medical affairs, and a lot of his research in the 1980s focused on the healing properties of ozone in treating infectious diseases such as HIV. “I had always been interested in ozone’s therapeutic merit,” says Dr. Shannon. “I was intrigued by the power of its antimicrobial presence.” Using the antibacterial properties of ozone, discovery more than 150 years ago, isn’t a new concept. Ozone has been used for decades to treat burns on human skin and to decontaminate food, laundry, and water.
In fact, today more than 3,000 major metropolitan areas use ozone to treat their water systems. “Scientists had been working on the idea of ozone as a antibacterial property for potential decontamination practices back in the 1990s,” says Shannon. “But they were working in small laboratory settings and never expanded upon that.” The two men conferred with Dr. Dick Zoutman, a professor at Queen’s and an expert on epidemiology and HAIs. Initially doubtful of the idea’s merit, Dr. Zoutman collaborated with Marshall and Shannon to see if they had something. Marshall rallied some investors and then it was up to Zoutman to create some bacteria for Shannon to kill. Using an ozone-based mixture, AsepticSure has achieved a >6 log (%99.9999) microbial kill level through rigorous testing in labs and hospital settings, proving itself a worthy opponent for some of the most lethal bacteria known to humans, including E. coli and C. difficile.
Now the challenge was to commercialize the system and package a practical solution for use in hospitals around the world. The AsepticSure System, expected to go on the market later this year, involves the placement of a simple device in the room to be decontaminated. All exit points are sealed off with a specially designed plastic material before the device is activated via remote control. The ozone-based mixture is released and kills all existing bacteria on carpets, drapes, medical equipment, electronics, and bed linens. Finally, a second mixture is released containing “scrubbers” which restore air quality to a level compliant with EPA and FDA standards. The whole process takes about 90 minutes for a room that is 4,000 cubic feet.
So what makes AsepticSure so effective?
According to Marshall, it outcompetes any conventional method by covering every cubic inch of a room. Substances such as peroxide and formaldehyde in addition to more advanced processes, such as ultraviolet irradiation, are either susceptible to human error, too expensive, or damaging to infrastructure. “Even if we can just decrease HAIs by 20 per cent, we can save thousands of lives,” states Marshall. According to a Centre for Disease Control (CDC) estimate, hospitals would also see significant financial savings in terms of reduced ICU involvement, readmissions, and the use of antibiotics related to HAIs “These diseases are crippling healthcare systems,” adds Shannon.
The average hospital will spend as much as US$26,000 on each patient they treat who has acquired an HAI, an even bigger problem for Americans whose health insurance won’t cover the cost of what they deem a “preventable” illness. “Surgeons in the United States are getting sued over HAIs, not because of negligence on their part, but because we haven’t yet introduced a more effective way of killing these pathogens,” explains Shannon. In the last year, Medizone has filed patents for using the AsepticSure System in the sports and manufacturing industries. Imagine being able to truly decontaminate the bacteria growing on a child’s football and hockey equipment. Imagine being able to have peace of mind knowing the meat products you’ve purchased are free of life threatening bacteria.
Thanks to Medizone and scientists like Dr. Shannon, we are moving towards revolutionary ways of beating illness and the answer was under our nose the whole time.