Page last updated at 08:00 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Wrexham university unveils cheap microwave steriliser

Modified sterilising microwave oven developed by Glyndwr University, Wrexham
The device could provide emergency field hospitals with sterilising facilities

Scientists at Glyndwr University say they have come up with a low cost way of sterilising medical equipment, using microwave ovens.

The research team modified a £40 device to develop an alternative to expensive steam sterilising techniques.

Instead, the microwave oven is used to direct "plasma" charges onto instruments, killing bugs.

The team say it could offer GPs, dentists and vets a quick and cheap way of cleaning equipment.

The researchers believe their system could also find its way into military and disaster zone field hospitals, as a way of helping speed up emergency treatment, while reducing costs.

Dr Andy Wright and his team at the university's Advanced Materials Unit came up with the process after attaching vacuum pumps to a cheap consumer microwave oven.

He said: "The oven we chose is the simplest type commercially available and with the modifications we made the cost of the system comes to under £2,000.

"The most reliable sterilisation systems currently cost around £70,000, making this very cost-effective."

According to the researchers, the unit works by generating an intense electric field inside a microwave running at low power.

'Cheap and portable'

The process leads to "plasma discharges" of the gases oxygen and ozone, which then attack and kill bacteria.

Dr Wright said that tests have shown the technology to be just as effective as existing steam-based methods of sterilisation.

"The technology now exists for hospitals, surgeries and dentists to move away from steam-based sterilisation methods and take up a plasma-based approach that has been shown to be 100% effective against the most difficult pathogens," he said.

"And as the cost is far less, it's well suited for use in small doctor, dentist or veterinary surgeries, where items such as small surgical instruments can be quickly sterilised prior to use."

But he stressed that there could be even wider uses for the devices.

"One of the main advantages is its small size and low weight," he explained.

"It means it can also be used easily by military field hospitals when coupled with a small portable generator.

"Thus, instruments do not have to be sent away for treatment and the cost of using disposable items can be reduced."

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