St. Paul, MN--If you want to know why you still see news stories about the spread of HIV through accidental needle sticks, try this experiment: Don a pair of common surgical gloves and lay your left palm out flat on a table. Now, hoist a hypodermic needle in your right hand and plunge it into the palm of your left glove.
Chances are, the hypodermic needle is sticking out of your palm like a fence post, having passed through the surgical glove as if it weren't there.
That, in a nutshell, is why so many accidental needle sticks still occur. The problem is that, even with gloves, the hands are unprotected.
Thanks to gloves made from a so-called SuperFabric, however, that may soon change. Scientists at Higher Dimension Research developed the SuperFabric, which is, in essence, not a material, but rather a technique for assembling materials into a hard but flexible entity. The patented SuperFabric assembly technique--which the company refuses to divulge--involves the use of "blocks of material connected by a mesh." The company says that the technique can be used with a variety of materials, including stainless steel, ceramics, composites, and plastics, among others. "We take tiny blocks of material and connect them together in such a way that they cling together," says Dr. Young-Hwa Kim, chief executive officer of Higher Dimension Research, and inventor of SuperFabric.
The key, Kim says, is that the resulting fabric is "locally hard but globally flexible." That's critical for surgeons, who must maintain sensitivity in their fingertips while they work. "They want something that will protect them but give them sensitivity at the same time," Kim says.
In the past, efforts to create gloves of that type were unsuccessful, mainly because those two features were believed to be incompatible. Some manufacturers tried using other commercially available materials, but the addition of resins hardened the gloves to the point where surgeons and nurses could not maintain the necessary sensitivity. As a result, some surgeons now wear two sets of gloves--woven liners and a pair of gloves made from latex.
Even two pairs of gloves, however, cannot stop a hypodermic needle as effectively as a single layer made from the SuperFabric, Kim says. Typically, the glove-liner-and-latex pair can offer resistance to a hypodermic needle with about 0.2 lb of force behind it. The SuperFabric consistently offers resistance against two pounds and, in some cases, up to three pounds of force.
The development of such gloves could have tremendous impact. The International Health Care Worker Safety Center estimates that there are more than one million accidental needle sticks per year in hospitals around the nation. As a result, more than 1,000 workers per year contract the hepatitis B virus and about 200 to 300 people die per year from needle sticks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Between 50 and 60 workers per year also contract HIV by accidental needle sticks.
For that reason, the demand for such gloves could be huge, especially if their cost is reasonable. Currently, about 14 billion medical gloves are produced and used annually around the world. No one as yet, however, has produced the new design in volume.
Scientists from Higher Dimension Research believe that the market for the SuperFabric will go far beyond medical gloves. They say the fabric could be used for gloves employed in construction, gardening, fishing, scuba diving, fire fighting, waste management, and other applications. They also envision it in boots and pants, to prevent snake bite and cactus punctures. In industry, they plan to apply it in tank liners for railroad cars and oil storage. The company also says that the SuperFabric concept could be used to make soft-sided, cut-resistant luggage and space suits. One of its best uses, however, may be in body armor. The firm is currently planning to apply it there because the mesh of the SuperFabric would reportedly provide body armor with an "air-passing" design. In contrast, today's body armor is "air-trapping," the firm's scientists say.
Company officials say that they want to form strategic partnerships with industry to produce new products based on the technology.
Additional details…Contact Dr. Joel Nelson, Higher Dimension Research, Inc., 7582 Currell Blvd., Suite 114, St. Paul, MN 55125; (651) 730-6204. Or check their website at: http://www.SuperFabric.com.
Railroad car liners