Gabriel Sharp is a microbe’s worst nightmare. Sharp is a patient safety expert at GE Healthcare. His specialty is keeping dangerous bacteria off ultrasound equipment, one of the “vectors” for infection transmission in medical offices. “Hospital acquired infections (HAIs) are a growing problem, especially in developed countries where more invasive procedures and reusable medical devices exist,” Sharp says. “Over the past 20 years, there has been a 36 percent increase in the number of HAIs. This has a significant financial impact.”
For the last five years, Sharp has been working with Nanosonics Limited, an innovative Australian company that has developed an environmentally clean, quick and efficient way to kill bacteria. Today, GE, a Nanosonics customer, said that it invested $7.5 million in the company through the GE healthymagination Fund, which provides financial backing to innovative healthcare technology businesses. The money will help Nanosonics further develop and distribute its disinfecting machine, Trophon EPR.
No Way Out: Nanosonics’s Trophon EPR kills 100 percent of bacteria in just seven minutes.
Hospitals have been using aggressive chemicals to kill bacteria sticking to ultrasound probes, or transducers. But the process requires liters and sometimes gallons of the disinfectants, which can damage the expensive tools and expose staff to occupational hazards like asthma. “We had a major issue with the chemicals destroying our equipment,” Sharp says. “We started to scour the globe for new and novel technologies to solve the problem.”
In 2006, GE found Nanosonics, then a small Australian company that started as a research project between Sydney University and NovaPharm, a chemicals R&D firm. The company developed a safe and efficient method to kill all bacteria in just seven minutes, half the time required by conventional methods, by using less than a half of a teaspoon of concentrated hydrogen peroxide. “We’ve invested time and expertise in helping them develop the proper test protocol” for Trophon, Sharp says.
The collaboration has paid off. In 2011, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved Trophon in the U.S., and there are currently over 800 customers in North America and Europe using the device. Nanosonics has also listed its shares on the Australian Stock Exchange. “In the ultrasound market, sonographers see over 10 patients a day, resulting in an increased need to disinfect the ultrasound transducer between patients,” says Nanosonics managing director Ron Weinberger. “When patients get scanned, they deserve full assurance that the equipment being used is safe and clean.”