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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Researchers develop tool to help wipe away contamination risk

Hospitals are designed – and equipped – to make people well. But by nature, they also play host to innumerable health risks not only for patients, but also the people who work there.

A team of Carolina researchers has developed a new weapon to reduce those risks: a set of towelettes that removes contamination of hazardous drugs on surfaces, designed to protect people involved in the preparation and administration of chemotherapy drugs.

ChemoGLO LLC, a spinoff company founded by UNC faculty members William Zamboni (at left) and Stephen Eckel (right), both in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, developed the towelettes, known as Hazardous Drug Clean, or HDClean for short.

The company signed a licensing agreement with the University for the technology and began offering HDClean on Feb. 7.

How did the idea for the product develop?

Eckel and Zamboni began the work that eventually led to ChemoGLO in 2008, developing a reference lab and an easy-to-use wipe kit to detect surface contamination of anticancer drugs.

HDClean grew out of the company’s test results, which showed that in most cases implementing best practices such as using closed-system transfer devices helped reduce the amount of surface contamination, but it didn’t eliminate all detectable concentrations.

“The idea for HDClean is that it would clean up, at the end of the day or the shift, any remnant that wasn’t mitigated through best practices,” said Eckel, who is an adjunct assistant professor at the pharmacy school.

“HDClean should not be used in place of best practices, but it provides one more solution to minimize the contact an individual has with hazardous drugs.”

How does HDClean work?

Each packet of HDClean has two towelettes, each containing a novel mixture. When used in sequence, the towelettes can remove all detectable anticancer drug contamination commonly found on surfaces in settings where chemotherapy is prepared and administered, such as hospitals, pharmacies, clinics and labs.

“This contamination is very difficult to clean up because these drugs have different solubilities,” said Zamboni, an associate professor at the pharmacy school. “If you use just alcohol or water, or even a mixture of the two, you can’t clean up the drugs.

“We worked through a bunch of different mixtures and ingredients to come up with towelettes that can clean a wide variety of drugs without leaving a strong odor or oil residue. HDClean achieves all of these goals.”

How widespread is chemotherapy contamination?

Chemotherapy contamination has been a growing topic of concern in the United States. Eckel, the assistant director of pharmacy at UNC Hospitals and a leading expert on the issue, said studies have found that people involved in the preparation and administration of chemotherapy drugs are at risk of developing complications from the drugs.

Thomas Connor, a research biologist at the Division of Applied Research and Technology at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said adverse reproductive effects, such as spontaneous abortion and lower birth weights, have been documented. The risk of cancer, while possible, has not been well documented, he said.

In the past three years, the ChemoGLO wipe kit has been used in more than 1,000 tests at more than 300 hospitals in the United States. Eckel and Zamboni said that 80 to 90 percent of the institutions they’ve tested had detectable surface contamination, and many had contamination levels that were 10 to 100 times higher than the concentration needed to kill cancer cells in vitro. (See a related network news story about the problem at go.unc.edu/t3R5Y.)

More information

For information from the Centers for Disease Control about the potential risks for health workers, see go.unc.edu/Yq45Q.  For additional information about ChemoGLO, see www.chemoglo.com.