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From natural rubber to medical glove

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Posted January 22, 2019

An Ohio State University researcher and her team have created the first medical glove that can block radiation while meeting federal guidelines and not triggering allergic reactions.

This glove also will eliminate the need for medical professionals working with radiation to double-glove to follow the federal requirement that they protect against both bloodborne pathogens and radiation.

Image credit: Ohio State University

Image credit: Ohio State University

“Wearing two different gloves on each hand is like doing surgery in boxing gloves,” said Katrina Cornish, an Ohio Research Scholar and holder of the Endowed Chair in Bio-based Emergent Materials at the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

The awkwardness of wearing two different gloves leads some medical professionals to use only one set of gloves.

“Then they’re putting themselves at risk,” Cornish said.

The Radiation Attenuation (RA) medical glove Cornish and her team developed uses rubber from guayule, a shrub native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. While there are already several types of RA gloves currently on the market, the glove that Cornish and her team have created uses guayule natural rubber, which does not cause allergic reactions, according to extensive testing by Cornish and her team.

This is significant because medical professionals typically prefer gloves made from natural rubber because they are stronger, provide better protection against pathogens and cause less hand fatigue. RA gloves are required for medical professionals performing procedures such as X-rays or radiation treatment of a tumor.

Besides the glove Cornish and her team developed, the only other RA medical glove that protects against both radiation and bloodborne pathogens is produced by a company in Italy. But that glove is made from Hevea rubber, which contains proteins that can cause allergic reactions, Cornish said.

Historically, natural rubber gloves have been problematic for people with latex allergies. A Type 4 latex allergy, the more common type, can cause a rash and skin cracking, while a Type 1 latex allergy can be life-threatening.

Gloves made from synthetic rubber typically don’t cause allergic reactions, but are thicker and less stretchy, and do not offer as much protection against diseases, Cornish said.

“With our glove, you can get all the properties in one glove, and no allergies,” she said.

Besides not causing allergic reactions, the advantages of guayule rubber are that it’s soft, stretchy and strong.

Using the rubber from guayule, Cornish and her team were able to produce a glove thick enough to block radiation and strong enough to block pathogens, yet thin enough to be flexible and stretchy, making it easy for professionals to work with precision while wearing them.

“You could make the glove 2 inches thick and you would meet the (required federal) specifications, but you can’t move your hand while wearing them,” she said.

As an added benefit, guayule is grown in the United States, while the bulk of the rubber currently used nationwide is imported from Asia.

The glove was developed in partnership with EnergyEne Inc., a Wooster-based startup led by Cornish.

“This is going to be enormously helpful for medical professionals because they’ll only have to wear one set of gloves and they won’t have to worry about getting allergies,” Cornish said.

Cornish will be pursuing Food and Drug Administration approval of the glove, then a licensing agreement to commercialize it. It likely will be on the market within two years, she said.

Along with making medical gloves, Cornish and her research team are creating other rubber products from guayule, including condoms and weather balloons. They also are working on products that can be made from the rubber in a specific kind of dandelion, a cousin of the common garden dandelion.

Source: Ohio State University

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