A medical student at UT Health San Antonio has invented a desktop sterilizer that he hopes to market, meeting the urgent need for infection control during the pandemic.

In March, John-Paul “JP” Bonansinga of the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine began building the sterilizer in his kitchen starting and is now working on developing it. Bonansinga has formed a company around this technology and others.

Bonansinga’s creation, smaller than a microwave oven, disinfects items for reuse by front-line health care workers. It is built to be easily portable and provide for sterilization of items at point-of-care locations, such as a nurses’ station or a surgical scrub-in room. Bonansinga has independently pursued manufacturing facilities to produce the units, with plans to provide them where needed.

Independent lab testing will be conducted to confirm the effectiveness of the units for deactivating coronavirus and other infectious microorganisms.

The goal, as Bonansinga sees it, is to offer a simple, cost-effective solution that is as eco-friendly as possible and reduces the need for daily expendables such as masks.

Bonansinga believes the sterilizer will be able to deliver a disinfecting and/or sterilizing exposure of UV light to a mask, or other personal protective equipment  items, in a fraction of the time required for other systems. The significantly reduced exposure time will minimize warping and degradation of PPE that is characteristic of longer UV-light exposure times using current technologies. Energy consumption should decrease.

“It is potentially useful,” said Jan Evans Patterson, MD, professor of infectious diseases at UT Health San Antonio. “For masks, it would be important to do filtration studies before and after disinfection, since the positive charge on masks can be affected by decontamination procedures. Also, it would be important to look at the particular UV light strength and focus used and verify decontamination of objects used in the clinical setting. It has potential, especially for point-of-care use and use in developing countries.”

Technologies with eight times longer exposure do not degrade the filtration capacity of N95 masks, Bonansinga said.

“The main points here are point-of-care and speed,” said John Fritz, associate director of the Office of Technology Commercialization at UT Health San Antonio. “If a health care worker has the option of taking off a mask, putting it in the sterilizer, and having it disinfected and ready to go again in short order, that will be critical to keeping the flow of care.”

The urgent need for PPE during the pandemic prompted Bonansinga to proceed with haste in delivering a serviceable device.

The process is moving quickly, and Bonansinga said he believes his creation will make an impact on helping the front-line medical community. Eventually, he’d like to donate units to small businesses, hospitals and clinics that can’t afford them, particularly in poor or underdeveloped countries, he said.

“JP is a young scientist with lots of invention ideas, and he is passionate and persistent,” said a mentor of Bonansinga, Ali Seifi, MD. Dr. Seifi, a serial inventor, encouraged Bonansinga to pursue his designs, advice that Bonansinga has taken seriously.

The units will find important applications in other businesses, including hair salons and other personal care facilities where equipment must be sterilized on the spot to protect the public.