Germ-killing uniforms for doctors

wilma_schmidt.top.jpgNurse Wilma Schmidt (left) put Vestex scrubs to work earlier this year in Haiti. By Eilene Zimmerman, contributing writer


(CNNMoney.com) -- When the going gets tough, plain old cotton won't do. Just ask sportswear manufacturers, many of which incorporate anti-microbial, fluid-resistant fabric into their clothing lines to keep athletes dry and odor-free.

Last year, biotech industry entrepreneur Uncas Ben Favret was thinking about such high-tech textiles. And he asked himself: Why are players in some of the toughest arenas around -- doctors and nurses -- still wearing scrubs and lab coats made from unsophisticated cotton blends?

Errant microbes are the scourge of modern medical facilities. Each year, the spread of pathogens inside hospitals costs the facilities $30 billion and causes an estimated 1.7 million infections and nearly 100,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maybe germ-killing, fluid-resistant uniforms could help, a friend who works as a surgeon suggested to Favret. And so Vestagen Technical Textiles was born. Under the brand name Vestex, Favret's startup makes lab coats and scrubs from fabric that is breathable, antimicrobial and fluid-resistant. Vestagen launched last year in Orlando and has attracted nearly $5 million in seed money from investors.

Vestex scrubs use a chemical compound called organosilane, which forms a colorless, odorless, positively charged barrier on the fabric's surface. "It's like a layer of electrically charged swords," says Favret. When bacteria hit the fabric, it punctures their cell membranes and kills them with an electrical charge. Vestagen licenses that technology, called NanoSphere, from Schoeller Textiles in Switzerland. Schoeller also licenses it to sportswear manufacturers including The North Face and Puma.

When Wilma Schmidt, a nurse at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center in Bradenton, Fla., volunteered to treat earthquake survivors in Haiti earlier this year, Vestagen donated scrubs for her and other emergency medical workers to try out.

Schmidt reported to St. Francois de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince. More than half of the hospital was destroyed in the quake. Schmidt spent her days changing bandages on crushed limbs, working feet away from piles of rubble that still hid buried bodies.

"The fluids I came in contact with just rolled off the uniform," she says. "Nothing soaked through that fabric."

Vestex uniforms cost a few dollars more than regular scrubs or lab coats. For example, its scrub tops retail for $24 to $26, while traditional scrub tops sell for about $20 apiece.

In April, Mercy Health Partners in Knoxville, Tenn., bought 600 Vestex lab coats for its doctors. "Studies have shown that physicians bring in bacteria from their ties and lab coats," says Jerry Sanders, chief medical officer for the network of health care facilities. "They are happy to give up the tie, but the lab coat identifies them as a physician. The Vestex coats are effective against a lot of different bacteria."

Vestagen is still in its early stages, with less than $500,000 in revenue since it began selling products in January. In addition to medical garments, the company is developing quarantine curtains, sheets, towels, patient gowns and blankets. Favret says he expects sales will pick up enough to push 2010 revenues over $6 million.

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University recently completed clinical trials to examine whether Vestex scrubs had fewer bacteria than regular scrubs when healthcare workers wore each kind over the course of eight weeks, washing them regularly. Halfway through the study, the Vestex scrubs had less bacteria -- a "statistically significant" amount -- compared to regular scrubs, says Gonzalo Bearman, the doctor and associate professor of internal medicine and infectious disease who led the study.

Even before the study wrapped up, Vestagen was winning converts. Wilma Schmidt says her experience in Haiti made her a believer. "I was working in 95 to 100 degree temperatures and I would be soaked with sweat, but the uniform -- inside and out -- dried very quickly," she says. "I felt protected and cool. It was amazing." To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Questions & Answers



QHow does a florist sell more in this economy? We changed our business to designing weddings and events only, as the everyday flowers are not selling. We had to throw out too much product at the end of the week -- flowers are perishable! More
Get Answer
- The Flower Lady, Suwanee, Ga.
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed4.23%4.25%
15 yr fixed3.23%3.21%
5/1 ARM3.45%3.56%
30 yr refi4.14%4.14%
15 yr refi3.16%3.13%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
 
Find personalized rates:

Sections

Shrinking demand for rifles pulls down gun maker's quarterly profit by 45%. More

University of Utah professor Michael Glauser cycled 4,000 miles this summer, visiting 100 entrepreneurs across the country. Here's a snapshot of how they grew their businesses. More

Apple is expected to launch the iPhone 6 in two weeks, but waiting until then to sell your old iPhone means you're way late to the game. More

The Coolest Cooler launched a Kickstarter campaign in July and has raised over $9 million so far, the second highest grossing campaign ever. More

Mary Fallon, from Durham, Maine, is a mother of three children, two dogs, 25 chickens and a flock of 22 sheep. Here are journal entries from a day in her life. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.