- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

A year ago, before most Americans worried about bioterrorism, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel began developing a filtration system to destroy airborne biological agents in ventilation systems.
Preliminary tests on the system have been excellent, said lead investigator Richard Potember.
The chemist came up with the idea of combining traditional High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters with newer technology to neutralize airborne pathogens such as spores, bacteria and viruses. The system is intended to prevent the spread of infection through ventilation systems in government facilities, office buildings and subways.
The new technology uses free radicals molecules with unpaired electrons that "steal" electrons from other molecules to pair up. A combination of ozone, water, ultraviolet lights and a metal matrix kills the pathogens.
Mr. Potember and his fellow researchers, including co-investigator and physical chemist Wayne Bryden, built a heating and air conditioning system to test the process. Biologists at the laboratory provided solutions that imitate pathogens like anthrax and smallpox.
"We are getting 100 percent kill with the bacteria and viruses," Mr. Potember said. "Anthrax is somewhat hard to kill because it's a spore, and spores can live in the dirt for a long period of time."
But, he added, most of the spores are large enough to be caught by the typical HEPA filter.
"We only have to kill the few remaining spores that get through," Mr. Potember said.
Mr. Potember is applying for a patent and seeking federal funding for research on the new system, which has been funded so far only by the laboratory.
Mr. Potember and Mr. Bryden said obtaining federal money to continue research is difficult, and current events make it even more complicated.
Biodefense "is a hot topic right now. Really, it is in everyone's thinking," Mr. Bryden said. "But that's a good thing and a bad thing, because with a lot more interest in this area, there are a lot more people going after these pots of federal money."
Mr. Bryden said he is optimistic that the promising preliminary test results will help the research win federal support.
Mr. Potember said the system also could have other applications, such as preventing secondary infections like staphylococcus in hospitals.

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