A large number of disposable gloves used in surgery are punctured or damaged during operations, bringing a high risk of infecting medical staff and patients.
Now five enterprising University of York students have devised an imaginary new glove which could warn when it has been damaged and may pass on diseases such as HIV or hepatitis. Currently only 15 per cent of damaged gloves are detected.
The idea, if it were taken up by a manufacturer, could have other applications such as condoms. And it was intriguing enough to win through to the national finals of a biotechnology contest against stiff competition.
The students, all researchers in the Department of Biology, devised a hypothetical glove which sandwiches a layer of an indicator chemical between two layers of latex from which the glove would be manufactured. The indicator would oxidise on contact with water, bodily fluids or oxygen, and change colour if the glove were to be punctured, torn, or the fabric deteriorates. This would give the wearer an immediate alert to change their gloves and to deal with any leakage of pathogens, bodily fluids, or chemicals.
Kirsten Knox, Liz Covey-Crump, Denise Hodge, Steve Jenkins and Steve Spencer formed a theoretical company called Inditex U.K and produced a business plan for the glove which helped them win through to the national finals in December of the Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme. They took the prize for `Best global strategy` competing against teams from the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leeds, and Brighton, and the John Innes research centre in Norwich.
The contest was sponsored by the Government`s Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Committee with the aim of encouraging scientists, particularly younger ones, to realise the commercial possibilities of the bioscience world. Other projects which reached the final were grass that never needs cutting, a protein which stimulates enamel production in teeth, and a soy-based material which helps bone and skin re-growth after an injury.
Kirsten Knox, research director of Inditex U.K., said: "We were really pleased to get to the final with this idea. The competition was very tough and we put many hours work into the business plan. One of the main aims was to introduce postgraduate students into the business world – the learning curve was very steep!"
Professor John Sparrow of the Department of Biology, added: "The York Inditex team faced strong competition and they showed remarkable abilities to develop their ideas across different scientific disciplines."
University of York. January 2002.