Montana State University

Montana State University’s TechLink plays key role in helping to fight the spread of Ebola

October 21, 2014 -- MSU News Service

Researchers Dr. Christopher Doona and Ms. Florence Feeherry of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center hold a flask containing chlorine dioxide, a solution that is highly effective against the Ebola virus. Their method of making the solution was transferred to the private sector via MSU TechLink, which specializes in moving research from federal labs into the hands of private industry. It is now in use in West Africa. Photo courtesy of David J. Kamm, U.S. Army.

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A Montana State University center specializing in transferring U.S. military technology to the private sector played a key role in getting into production a portable and potent disinfectant system that kills the Ebola virus on surfaces. This “no power required” system is now being used to sterilize medical equipment used in the treatment of Ebola patients in West Africa.

The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Mass., developed the system while working on spray decontaminants that could be used to clean Army field kitchens. The system is a method of generating chlorine dioxide (ClO2) gas, one of the best biocides available for combatting contaminants that range from benign microbes and food pathogens to Category A Bioterror agents. 

The novelty of the Army’s invention is that unlike other methods of preparing chlorine dioxide, no electricity or caustic acids are needed to activate the powdered ClO2, nor is clean water required, making it ideal for use in remote field locations, such as those encountered by medical personnel on the Ebola front in West Africa.

Dr. Christopher Doona, the lead inventor of this field-portable method for generating ClO2, is a senior research chemist at the Natick lab. Doona and his team are credited with perfecting this process of converting dry powder chemicals into ClO2.

The technology was transferred to ClorDiSys Solutions, a privately held company in Lebanon, N.J., via collaboration between specialists at MSU's TechLink and Natick’s Technology Transfer Office. The company is commercializing the system and making it available worldwide. Technology transfer such as this, from a government lab to private enterprise, is mandated by Congress and ensures that useful technologies don’t just gather dust on a shelf, but find application in U.S. industry, according to Dan Swanson, senior technology manager, TechLink.

“It was a perfect scenario. We needed something and the Army had it. TechLink helped us get to the finish line,” said Paul Lorcheim, ClorDiSys Solutions’ director of operations.

ClorDiSys Solutions is a spinout of Johnson & Johnson. The company focuses on generating and using ClO2, providing both powered and unpowered solutions for decontamination and sterilization of pharmaceutical, medical, veterinary and food facilities. 

When the opportunity came along to provide ClO2 on the Ebola front, ClorDiSys was willing and ready.

“Various world health organizations, including the U.S. government, are using ClorDiSys’s gaseous chlorine dioxide to sterilize items that are contaminated with Ebola. It has been tested and is being utilized by these organizations for a number of applications,” said Mark Czarneski, ClorDiSys Solutions’ director of technology.

Chlorine dioxide is a yellow-green gas with a faint odor similar to chlorine bleach but otherwise it is very different. It has been recognized as a disinfectant since the early 1900s and has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for many applications. To date no organism tested against ClO2 has proved resistant.

Packets of ClorDiSys’s powdered ClO2, which until recently did not exist, are portable enough to be carried in backpacks.

The success of ClO2 in combating Ebola and other pathogens follows another collaboration between the Department of Defense and a biotech company that yielded a potential treatment for victims sickened by Ebola. The Ebola antibody that is a key component of the experimental drug called ZMapp was developed in the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and transferred with assistance from TechLink to Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego, Calif. ZMapp is credited with having saved the lives of two American medical missionaries who contracted Ebola last July, and is regarded as one of the most promising treatments for Ebola currently under development.

Contact: Dan Swanson, senior technology manager, TechLink, (406) 994-7736,