This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Slaughter announces $3 million to launch UB biodefense

Published: August 18, 2005

Contributing Editor

A $3 million Department of Defense appropriation to Buffalo BioBlower Technologies LLC, a spin-off of UB announced on Tuesday by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, will allow the new company to begin commercializing its powerful air sterilization device.


Researchers John Lordi (left) and James Garvey chat with Rep. Louise Slaughter at Tuesday's press conference.

The Department of Defense funding puts the company and its technology on a fast track that the company hopes will lead to use of the device by the U.S. military to protect troops in the field from biological attacks.

The BioBlower can rapidly and continuously eradicate airborne biological pathogens, such as anthrax. It also has the potential to eradicate other airborne pathogens, such as avian flu, SARS and influenza viruses, as well as other bacteria and mold.

The funding, part of the House Department of Defense appropriations bill for fiscal year 2006, will support company operations, advanced development of the BioBlower technology and the eventual hiring of company staff.

"The BioBlower is now on its way toward becoming one of the critical technologies that will be used to protect our soldiers in the field from biological agents," said James F. Garvey, professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, co-founder and chief technical officer of Buffalo BioBlower Technologies with John Lordi, chief executive officer of the company. Lordi is a UB research professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The researchers expect to deliver the first BioBlower prototype to the Department of Defense by the end of this year for evaluation for eventual procurement.

"The BioBlower is a technology that can be applied widely in civilian and military life to keep people secure and, in an emergency, to save lives," said Slaughter. "Everything from hospitals, first-responder units and postal facilities to government buildings and mass-transit systems could benefit enormously from the security and peace of mind generated by this device.

"I'm also so proud to say that the BioBlower was invented right here at the University at Buffalo," she continued. "Once again, our region is serving as a leader in technological development, and its labor and intuition are benefiting people both locally and throughout our country."

"The BioBlower device is an outstanding example of the far-reaching impact of the innovative academic research for which UB is distinguished," said President John B. Simpson. "In no small measure, it is through research contributions like those of Professor Garvey and Professor Lordi that UB has emerged as a major center for interdisciplinary research in the field of biodefense.

"Indeed," he added, "Rep. Slaughter has UB's tremendous gratitude for her longstanding and steadfast commitment to supporting such vital research initiatives."

A total of $200,000 in venture capital funds has been received from the Western New York Business Development Fund to capitalize the company and allow the construction of a commercial prototype for evaluation by the military.

Currently, the researchers are testing the BioBlower technology against Bst, (Bacillus stearothermophilus), the bacterium spore against which surgical autoclaves are tested.

Those tests are funded by a $200,000 contract received in 2004 by CUBRC (Calspan-UB Research Center), which is performing the advanced biological testing at UB on the current BioBlower system. They also are funded by a $50,000 match from the UB Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology, part of UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.

Through its Product Development Fund, the UB Office of Science, Technology and Economic Outreach (STOR) also has contributed seed funding to develop the technology.

Garvey explained that because the BioBlower destroys pathogens, it represents a major departure from the simple, passive filtration methods currently employed by the military to protect its troops from biological agents.

"Current methods don't kill the pathogens; instead they are trapped on these large HEPA filters, which must then be carefully stored until they can be safely destroyed," he said.

That poses a danger of contamination to personnel handling them in the field, not to mention the costly and logistical difficulty of transporting the used filters back to a facility for destruction.

"The BioBlower, on the other hand, instantly kills all airborne pathogens, providing a continuous flow of sterile, breathable air," Garvey said.

The BioBlower technology is based on a modification of a Roots blower, a mechanical air-pump technology that has been in existence for more than 100 years and has been used for a range of applications—from vacuum pumps in research laboratories to superchargers for drag-racing "funny cars."

The BioBlower destroys airborne pathogens by rapidly heating the contaminated air under pressure and mechanically compressing it as it is being blown rapidly through the mechanical rotary pump.

At the same time, the system blows disinfected air back into the enclosed environment, whether it is a tank, plane, ship, tent or building.

Under the new grant, the Department of Defense foresees an immediate application for the BioBlower in the inflatable units that the military erects on the battlefield for command headquarters and temporary hospital units.

The units also could be installed as a permanent part of a building's air handling (HVAC) system, particularly on military bases.

The technology also has applications in healthcare settings to ensure a sterile environment, a critical factor for patients either in post-operation recovery or whose immune systems are compromised.

"Likewise, airborne diseases such as SARS can be contained with such a device, turning any ordinary hospital room into an isolation ward, on demand," Garvey said.

UB has filed for patent protection on the BioBlower and the university has exclusively licensed the technology to Buffalo BioBlower Technologies LLC.

In addition to Garvey and Lordi, the inventors of the BioBlower are James D. Felske and Joseph C. Mollendorf, both professors in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

The BioBlower is a direct result of collaborations between chemists in the College of Arts and Sciences, engineers in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and at CURBC, and microbiologists in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.