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Thursday , 21 October 2021
Outbreaker Solutions lab at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Photos submitted

Local scientific discovery could have worldwide impacts in future products

Vermilion natives have assisted in developing antimicrobial door handles and covers for virtually any high touch surface — having the potential to be installed in any building, anywhere in the world.

Brayden Whitlock and Matt Hodgson (who grew up going to school together in Vermilion), along with the ingenuity of Doug Olson, have been using compressed sodium chloride (CSC), or salt, for its effectiveness in reducing the spread of viruses or bacteria. Because of its speed, they believe the product has the potential to become a game-changer in the medical field.

“We basically started using a simple material (salt) in creative ways to make it behave how we wanted it to,” said Whitlock.

“We’re now sitting on a technology that works in seconds to a few minutes which is unheard of in the field.”

Before CSC, he said the gold standard for pathogen reduction was a two-hour timeframe. Olson, who is attributed with the salt discovery, realized they needed something faster, and Whitlock said they knew that if they were going to cover a door handle, every touch would take place in far less than two hours.

Push-plates and door handle covers made by Outbreaker Solutions.

Whitlock first met Olson at the end of 2012 in a sporting goods store, while he had been working on biology research for the undergrad of his medical sciences degree. Olson had told him about the use of salt, but it was not yet patented.

“There was not a lot of information or data, but it was very intriguing because I knew the problem of virus control was one of the biggest problems humanity faces,” said Whitlock.

They started their company, Outbreaker Solutions, in 2017, and have received support from the U of A.

As part of the university’s Health Accelerator, they have been able to use a lab and office space to continue their development. There, Whitlock will be finishing his PhD as well as a Law degree in the next few months.

In order to turn the salt into a product or usable form for door handles, they faced a few challenges and had to develop ways to control different aspects.

“There was a lot of science investigation to be done — it was ongoing but it was slow. Regular table salt wouldn’t be a very good interface to touch and it would be water-soluble. We had to create a product that would be the right strength, would be compatible with all of the cleaners, and that we would be able to combine with other technology. For example, for a company that makes doorknobs we would have to find a way to add salt.

“It’s still ongoing – we are developing new ways to use it so that once the consumer receives it, it is ready to go. The core of the material science program is how to make it usable, easy and cheap.”

One item they have created is a universal push-plate for swinging doors that can go in any building. Outbreaker Solutions is currently waiting to sell their CSC product until they get regulatory approval.

“We know that our technology is extremely efficacious,” said Whitlock.

“Most companies don’t follow this route, but we are slowly making progress in that area.”

In the meantime, they have partnered with Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) for research purposes. After installing CSC to high touch surfaces, they plan to do market research to find out other’s opinions and bolster the product, while collecting data for themselves and ETS.

Whitlock said the health care industry is already becoming very interested in their product, and although they are developing several ways to use this technology, one of the earliest will be a bed rail.

“Health care associated infections are extremely costly infections, in the billions. We’ve seen over the course of several years these infections are becoming resistant to treatment, creating drug-resistant superbugs,” said Whitlock.

“Given its such a big problem in healthcare, we are not just looking at the door handles and hardware, but hospital bed rails and everything in a patient’s room that gets touched – an IV pole, hall rails, door buttons, etc. (anywhere bacteria or viruses are problematic).

“Listeria or salmonella can be a problem in the food industry, so CSC could also be used in meat processing tools or tables, as well as hospitality for general consumer use. – the possibilities are endless,” said Whitlock.

Lab tests done by Outbreaker Solutions.

Whitlock along with his team of micro-biologists and virologists have also tested CSC on E. Coli bacteria and superbugs like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). They received faster results, thus showing it to be more effective than traditional surfaces such as stainless steel or copper alloys.

“Before COVID was a thing, infection control, the amount of money we spend and the amount of lives spent was one of the world’s biggest problems. The reason why getting into this field was so attractive was because of the magnitude of the problem,” said Whitlock.

In order for an antimicrobial surface to be effective, Whitlock said it would have to be fast acting, safe, accessible (affordable), and passive (meaning it can’t require people to recharge or clean it, etc.)

“I would argue that our product is the first-ever developed which is all four of those,” said Whitlock.

Whitlock said they are publishing their work all over the world, but only patenting it in wealthy countries, meaning the vast majority of the world population can access it for free. He said Olsen’s primary driving force was asking in what way could he help the world the most.

“I would agree it is a great contribution – even if it’s never built into a huge business, it would still be a huge success,” said Whitlock.

For more information you can visit www.outbreaker.ca.

About Angela Mouly

Angela comes to Lakeland Connect after leaving traditional newspaper where she spent the past four years reporting on community events. Her repertoire includes writing about history, politics, agriculture, sports, entertainment and art. She was the third place recipient of an AWNA General Excellence Award for “Best Front Page” during their 2016 Better Newspaper Competition. Angela has lived in rural Alberta all her life and in Vermilion for the past 15 years. She looks forward to continuing to serve and inform the Lakeland community by joining in people's many adventures and sharing their stories.