The World Health Organization says hundreds of thousands of people around the world develop life-threatening illnesses each year from antibiotic-resistant organisms that are often found in hospitals. Ridding hospitals of contamination has become a major challenge and a huge expense. But a Texas-based company, called Xenex Healthcare Services may have the solution to this problem - with a device that uses light to kill micro-organisms.
This machine fires bursts of ultraviolet, or UV, light that penetrate the cells of micro-organisms and kill them.
The organisms have no chance to adapt and gain immunity as they might with a chemical, says Dr. Mark Stibich, Xenex Healthcare co-founder and chief scientific officer .
“The high energy UV penetrates the cell walls of organisms and it is absorbed by the DNA, so it is really treating the organisms or disinfecting the organism at the root of where any mutation would develop," said Stibich.
Dr. Stibich says the device uses concentrated bursts of pulse xenon light, a technology that has been around for more than 30 years.
But Xenex has developed the concept further. Its device can sweep a room in a matter of minutes, eliminating most organisms on surface areas.
No one understands the importance of that more than Xenex Healthcare's Chief Executive Officer, Brian Cruver, who became sick some years ago after being treated at a hospital.
“I went in for a simple procedure and it turned into, well, I acquired an infection in a hospital," said Cruver.
Cruver went through two months of intravenous antibiotic treatment to recover, but the experience introduced him to the crisis hospitals face.
“Finding out that hospital infections are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, that hospital infections kill more people than AIDS, breast cancer and automobile accidents combined; that is staggering," he said.
Xenex is a small company. But Cruver sees great potential for growth as hospitals here and in other countries discover how well the device works..
“The fact is this is a huge problem; it is global," he said. "Every hospital needs this product.”
The Xenex device is being thoroughly tested at the top cancer hospital in the United States - MD Anderson Cancer Clinic in Houston. Dr. Roy Chemaly the hospital's chief of infection control, says patients there are especially vulnerable.
“We know they already have compromised immune systems, they have already infections and they are at risk for serious infections and infections from resistant organisms," said Chemaly.
Dr. Chemaly says preliminary tests show close to 100 per cent disinfection using the Xenex device after a room has already been given an initial cleaning. But he says he won't have full results for at least another year.