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Collaboration for Medical Sterilization Innovation Equipment

Over the course of her career in infection prevention control within hospital settings, Professor Dr. Akeau Unahalekhaka found many re-occurring issues with the sterilization of respiratory care equipment, which is important equipment for critical care patients.

Generally, hospitals were using the expensive low temperature Ethaline Oxide gas (ETO) process to sterilize equipment. Based on a literature review, Prof. Dr. Akeau found that pasteurization was a viable alternative process at greatly reduced cost.

Sourcing and importing foreign-made pasteurization sterilization equipment was extremely costly, especially for rural and remote hospitals, so Prof. Dr. Akeau set out to develop appropriate, locally-made device that would innovatively combine the pasteurization equipment with a sterile drying cabinet into one piece of equipment.

Development of this equipment was a collaborative process that involved the Chiang Mai University Science and Technology Park (STeP), an organization tasked with fostering collaboration between private, academic, and government sectors, as well as the Faculty of Associated Medical Sciences and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. STeP put Prof. Dr.  Akeau in touch with Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sate Sampattagulwith and other engineers from  the Faculty of Engineering and together they designed a pasteurization and drying cabinet all-in-one solution for Thai and regional hospitals. Prof. Dr. Akeau conducted pilot testing of the equipment in Nan Hospital.

The UNC School of Medicine through Prof. Dr. William Rutala, Professor donated testing instrumentation while the Faculty of Associated Medical Science provided culture testing. The pasteurization machine was a resounding success with results confirming high-level sterilization of the respiratory  care equipment. However, the drying cabinet requires re-design as it was failing to dry the respiratory care equipment  to acceptable levels.

The group will continue development on their prototype and will actively look for further investment to complete the design. With support from STeP and the National Innovation Agency (NIA), Prof. Dr.  Akeau recently attended the NSTDA Investor’s Day 2019 in Bangkok where she presented the project the project to an audience of potential investors.

Once the design is completed and the equipment is meeting all standards for sterilization and drying, Prof. Dr. Akeau  plans to  work with the Ministry of Public Health to supply this product to the over 700 hospitals in Thailand that cannot afford more expensive equipment alternatives. Prof. Dr. Akeau has noted that Thailand’s hospital system lacks the financial means to purchase high-tech sterilization equipment used in wealthier countries. The development of locally designed and manufactured hospital equipment for Thai and other regional neighbors would offer a huge advancement in the ability of hospitals to maintain sterile environments and to prevent the transmission of diseases in hospital settings.

Prof. Dr. Akeau is also pairing her development of sterilization

solutions for hospitals with the culmination of her 30-years of work in this field via the creation of the “3 Day Training Package.”  In this package,  she consults with and trains hospital staff in the motivation and problem solving methodologies for process improvements and change management from within hospitals. This is done in order to support sterilization and disease prevention from within hospital settings.


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