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Medical Instrument Decontamination and Screening

V I Kovalev, Cheng Li, Jim Barton


Develop new methods to remove and verify the removal of prions from surgical instruments: Prions, misshapen or abnormally folded forms of the natural PrP protein, are the infectious agents that cause variant CJD in humans. They are very difficult to distinguish from the normal form of the protein and, because they are particularly resistant to normal hospital sterilisation procedures, there is a risk of transmission of the disease via surgical instruments. The project aims to provide a new approach to decontamination of surgical instruments, and to ensure that decontamination is effective.


An interactive team drawn from medicine, biochemistry, chemistry, physics and engineering backgrounds:

  • University of Edinburgh (UoE), Dept. of Chemistry
  • Dept. of Biomedical Sciences; Neuropathology Dept.; Western General Hospital (WGH), Edinburgh
  • EPS Physics, Heriot-Watt University (HWU).


Department of Health 2002 2005.

3-stage programme

Development of new methods for the removal of infective protein material, based on plasma cleaning; (UoE) Development of extremely sensitive opto-chemical methods, based on fluorescence, to detect residual protein contamination after cleaning and sterilisation; (UoE, HWU) Biological verification of the efficiency of these cleaning and detection methods. (WGH, UoE)

Fluorescence detection system 

A fibre-optic fluorescence detection system based on Ocean-Optics XYZ translation stage has been constructed. It demonstrates automatic scanning of the fluorescence from labelled proteins on surgical instruments with high sensitivity.


 Figure 1 Fibre-optical system for fluorescence detection (left) and detail of probe head (right).

 Figure 2 (left): Surgical clamp, with scanned area outlined. (right): Signal after labelling with fluorophore.


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