Ann Arbor, Mich. The white liquid resembling skim milk that fills bottles in the back of an Ann Arbor laboratory doesn't look like a potentially powerful tool in the war against bioterrorism.
But looks can be deceiving.
Its inventors say the substance, called NanoProtect, can be sprayed or smeared on clothing, vehicles, people or anything that has been exposed to a slew of deadly substances, including anthrax spores and smallpox virus. And, they say, NanoProtect will zap the bad stuff.
"It bombards the bacteria and virus. It blows it up," said Dr. James Baker Jr., head of the University of Michigan Medical School's department of allergy and immunology. Baker, NanoProtect's chief creator, also directs the U-M's Center for Biologic Nanotechnology.
Baker said the new substance could have a huge impact, and he and his research team would like it to get expedited approval from the government so it can be put into the hands of the military and the public.
The Ann Arbor group has completed its studies and published its test results in several peer-review journals. NanoProtect also passed extensive testing at a U.S. Army site in Utah and was mentioned as a promising new product by a Defense Department official who testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee this summer.
NanoProtect is made of vegetable oil and biodegradable detergents formed at the nano level. In that super-small world, objects are measured in nanometers, or 1 billionth of a meter 10,000 times narrower than a human hair. For NanoProtect, the technology produces droplets with a surface tension that causes them to attack and destroy the bacteria and viruses they come in contact with, Baker said.
NanoProtect would be used after a biological agent is released. With anthrax, for example, the spores can live in the air for hours, then be stirred up every time someone or something, like a car, passes by. NanoProtect could be applied to neutralize the spores.
Bleach and similar substances also can neutralize anthrax spores, but they entail environmental concerns, Baker said. NanoProtect, he said, is safe enough to rub on the skin, inhale or even swish around the mouth.