Thor meets R2D2: San’s new super-cleaning hero

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In testing times, heroes emerge – and Sydney Adventist Hospital has found a super-powered solution from outer space in its battle to beat infections.

It shares a name with Marvel’s Norse God of Thunder and looks a bit like the Star Wars droid R2D2 – meet THOR, a robot that eradicates dangerous pathogens with laser precision.

It emits ultraviolet UV-C light to penetrate hard-to-reach, hidden surfaces, using technology that eliminated the COVID-19 virus in minutes during a recent study by Boston University in the United States.

“This system gives us another level of confidence because of its intensity and its reach, since it can get around obstacles within the room in a way that would be almost impossible by wiping down with cloths,” said Head of Orthopaedic Surgery Dr Rod Brooks, one of the early advocates for introducing the complementary cleaning system to the hospital, known as the San.

Preventing infection is especially vital for orthopaedic surgeons because – even with antibiotics – pathogens are hard to eradicate if they get into the bone or joint during a procedure, especially if there is an implanted prosthesis on which germs can survive.

“It’s one of the reasons why we’ve always been so interested in maintaining a super-sterile theatre environment,” Dr Brooks said.

The Sun’s UV-C form of ultraviolet radiation is relatively weak by the time it passes through Earth’s ozone layer, but it can be easily replicated – it was used to disinfect water and treat skin infections as long ago as the early 1900s.

The mobile THOR unit generates more power than older generation UV technology. Its tablet-controlled system scans and maps the space to be disinfected, assessing all the items and surfaces in the room.

The robotic device raises up and down, flashing with a vivid blue light that infiltrates surfaces in areas manual cleaning may not reach, causing a slight sulphur smell as it irradiates unseen skin particles and hair follicles.

“The system has been proven to kill more than 99.99 percent of bacteria exposed to it,” said Roel Castillo, manager of the hospital’s Sterile Processing department. 

“That’s almost a million-to-one guarantee that superbugs will be eradicated. That’s why we are so appreciative that we now have this additional system to complement what we already do.”

The THOR unit was funded by donations to the not-for-profit hospital’s San Foundation – it was evaluated before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and its arrival has provided a valuable tool in the midst of a resurgence in infections.

“When we can demonstrate new initiatives like this to maximise high standards of sterility and disinfection, our patients feel more confident to come in for their much-needed treatments and procedures,” Dr Brooks said.

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