Excerpted from Solution Nation: One Nation is Disproportionately Responding to the World’s Most Intractable Problems
Hospital-based medical professionals do not have to work too hard to facilitate the spread of bacteria: The body flora itself is a prolific producer of bacteria. Every minute the body emits about a quarter of a million bacterial microbes. Many of these microbes percolate from beneath the epidermis (the top layer of the skin) and depart from the body through sweat glands, hair follicles and orifices. Textiles such as bedsheets, pajamas and blankets act as incubators for the exiting bacteria. The moisture produced while patients lie snug in their beds attracts even more bacterial bugs.
Jerusalem, Israel-based, Argaman Technologies’ solution for destroying bacteria festering in textiles includes embedding copper in the kinds of textiles you would expect to see in hospitals—pillow cases, bedsheets, towels, and blankets. Nurses’ uniforms are an especially important fabric for eradicating bacteria as clinging microbes can be transferred from room to room. (The Company’s product portfolio extends beyond textiles: It includes copper saturated adhesive films that kill bacteria on hard surfaces and copper-laden disposable surgical masks that slay bacteria and viruses when they pass through the masks.)
How does Argaman Technologies inject copper particles into cotton? The Company places copper oxide particles and cotton fiber in water. Its engineers then blast ultrasonic sound waves through the water. According to my discussions with Argaman’s management, billions of ultrasonic waves are shot per second and they travel at up to 1,000 kilometers per hour. This process causes the copper particles (averaging one micron in diameter) to shoot into the cotton fibers (approximately 10 microns in diameter).Due to this energy transfer, the copper particles are embedded into the cotton fiber for the life of the textile; no bindings or coatings are needed. At the end of the process, the cotton threads are examined with X-ray diffraction technology to determine that the desired ratio of copper oxide-to-cotton is achieved.
Advantageous Properties of Copper and Cotton
Why are copper and cotton the commodities of choice to defeat bacteria? The two primary criteria Argaman’s management used to select a metal were the metal’s safety and efficacy. Gold and titanium score very well on these metrics but would render textiles far too expensive. Zinc has good efficacy against fungi, but not against bacteria. Silver has little effect on viruses while it only reacts to some bacteria and only at very high doses. Copper was determined to lie in the sweet spot of safety, efficacy and affordability.
Copper is heralded for being a powerful anti-bacterial, sanitizing and anti-odor material. Bacteria are unable to develop a resistance to copper, as they too easily do to antibiotics, due to copper’s non-specific kill mechanism. Copper oxide’s positively-charged atoms are small enough to flow through the bacteria as they seek corresponding negatively-charged atoms which are located in DNA, nuclei and many other places in the bacteria.
One disadvantage with copper is that it does not naturally kill microbes quickly. Nonetheless, Argaman’s copper oxide solution reportedly kills almost all bacteria, viruses and fungi within minutes of contact. The key to achieving accelerated release is that the copper oxide that the Company uses is pre-treated with chemicals before being shot with ultrasonic waves.
And as for the chosen fiber, why did Argaman decide to develop cotton-based textiles rather than polyester-based textiles? Biofilms that inhibit ionic release form on polyester but not on cotton. Further, the Company carefully selects the strands of cotton used to receive the blasted copper compounds.
 As a point of reference, the width of a human hair ranges from 150 to 200 microns.
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