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Building 134
P.O. Box 5000
Upton, NY 11973-5000
phone 631 344-2345
fax 631 344-3368

managed for the U.S. Department of Energy
by Brookhaven Science Associates, a company
founded by Stony Brook University and Battelle

News Release

Number: 03-73
Released: October 7, 2003
Contact: Diane Greenberg, 631 344-2347 or Mona S. Rowe, 631 344-5056

Brookhaven Lab Develops ‘ThraxVac’ to
Clean Up Anthrax

Circle Group Holdings, Inc., Licenses the Technology

UPTON, NY – Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a device, dubbed “ThraxVac,” that can collect and kill anthrax and other bacterial spores. The patent-pending device has been licensed to Circle Group Holdings, Inc., a public company based in Mundelein, Illinois.

ThraxVac vacuums up anthrax and other bacterial spores, then “tricks” the spores into germinating through heat and moisture, thus making them vulnerable to injury. The newly activated spores are then bombarded with alpha particles, a form of radioactivity that does not penetrate skin or clothes. The alpha particles kill the spores, rendering them nontoxic.

Carl Czajkowski and Barbara Panessa-WarrenCarl Czajkowski, a Brookhaven Lab scientist, and Barbara Panessa-Warren, a biology consultant for Brookhaven, thought of the idea for the invention together in 2001 shortly after several anthrax incidents in the U.S. were widely reported. Czajkowski said, “We thought there must be a better way to clean up anthrax, other than using harsh chemicals that are dangerous to humans and to the environment. Also, chemicals often can’t do the job thoroughly.”

ThraxVac is expected to be as portable as a home vacuum, or it can be retrofitted as part of a building’s heating, ventilating and air conditioning system, where it would continually capture and kill suspect bacteria and spores. In both of these technologies, a disposable filter is fitted with its own enclosed low-level polonium-210 source that emits alpha particles to continuously kill collected spores. All collected spores would be dead when the filter is discarded.

Using alpha particles for commercial processes is not new to industry. Specifically, alpha particles emitted from polonium-210 act as a static eliminator in paper mills and other industries. Alpha particles in ThraxVac can be used to decontaminate not only large surfaces, but also intricate machinery and moving parts, without impairment of function. Potential users include municipality response teams, major corporations, the military, and the postal service.

ThraxVac has several advantages over current methods of killing anthrax spores. The polonium source does not need heavy shielding, so the device is light-weight and easily portable. The use of polonium to produce alpha particles virtually eliminates the health and radiation hazards associated with gamma and x-ray sources. Since the polonium is contained in a closed source, it is not airborne, so there is no danger of inhaling it. Also, bleach, alcohol, acids, bases, or solvents do not easily kill endospores. Any anthrax spores that are not killed can remain a threat for many years.

With additional funding from Circle Group Holdings, Inc., Czajkowski and Panessa-Warren, with the aid of George Tortora, Head of Clinical Microbiology at University Hospital, Stony Brook, intend to continue proof-of-principle tests and microscopic analysis of the spore destruction process using both transmission electron microscopy and scanning electron microscopy at Brookhaven. So far, test results are extremely promising. The final steps before commercialization will be making a prototype and optimizing it for field use.

Note: The researchers do not actually work with anthrax at Brookhaven; they work with a genetically identical model bacterium called Baccilus cereus. This model bacterium does not contain or produce the dangerous toxins that anthrax produces.