Scots Boffin Invents Revolutionary Technique


By Alexander Lawrie

A SCOTS medical inventor has won a coveted national award – with a little help from a car battery bought from B&Q.

Dr Frank Prior was honoured at the 2008 Medical Futures Innovation Awards for his revolutionary invention which cleans surgical instruments.

The process known as ‘Electro-elution’ cleans and sterilises medical instruments of prion proteins which are highly resistant to normal cleaning, leading to most instruments being thrown away after use.

And Dr Prior’s new cleaning process could now mean a saving of thousands of pounds for the NHS.

The boffin is now in talks with a major medical manufacturer who want to distribute his process worldwide.

The outbreak of ‘mad cow disease’ in the 1990’s had highlighted the fact that certain proteins, namely prion proteins, can be highly infectious.

Medical research showed the prion proteins are highly resistant to the normal cleaning and sterilisation processes carried out today.

As a result, instruments used on a patient with an infection are routinely isolated and then carefully destroyed

Dr Prior, from Longniddry, East Lothian, was discussing the problem with two doctors from the Neuropathogenesis Unit at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary when he remembered an incident while he was a young pharmacist at Guy’s Hospital in London.

A nurse had broken a mercury thermometer and the mercury had instantly micro-plated her gold wedding ring.

But Dr Prior worked out a method of removing the mercury and turning it back to gold.

He then realised if the mercury could ‘cold electroplate’, it might be possible for prion protein to do the same.

So, the freelance medical inventor and his colleague Bob Smith jumped into his car and headed straight to his nearest B&Q store.

He bought a 12-volt car battery, six foot of wire and other equipment and started to construct a reverse electrolysis unit.

The intrepid duo’s first experiment went badly when the blood turned into a charred black mass on the electrode.

Thinking the process would not work, they tried one more time but this time switched the wires around.

The next experiment saw the boffins conduct the fastest cleaning process they had ever seen, as the alcohol-fixed blood was blown off the medical instrument in around 45 seconds.

‘Electro-elution’ has now been developed into a working, full-sized prototype, the process has been patented and the Scots inventors are now in talks with a major, global manufacturer.

Dr Prior said: “It’s great to see an East Lothian person getting UK recognition. I’m just surprised it’s me.

“Electro-elution offers a method of rapidly, effectively and safely removing blood and ME7 prion protein from metal surgical instruments.

“Further testing needs to be done, but the results to date are looking positive.”