Innovator: Chuck Dunn
Innovation: Eliminating the spread of hospital-acquired infections with a machine that emits an automated measured dose of UV lights from a solitary position in a hospital room, ensuring 99.99 percent pathogen reduction in a single cycle, and removing the threat of human error.
by Lesley Young
When Dr. Jeffrey Deal returned to the U.S. on the last flight from Liberia on August 31, 2014, he went straight to the hospital with an infection.
Deal did not have Ebola. Instead, he had something equally as dangerous — a resistant staph infection.
It was then that Deal knew that all the work he had been doing with Memphis entrepreneur Chuck Dunn was not in vain. “Seven-hundred thousand people go to a healthcare facility for treatment and come out with a new infection. Seventy-five thousand of those people don’t go home at all,” Deal says.
Dunn is the president and CEO of Tru-D SmartUVC, and together with Deal, they are working on eliminating the spread of hospital-acquired infections with an invention created by Deal close to a decade ago.
Deal, with the help of his brother, David, came up with a machine that transmits UV-C light in a measured dose to disinfect all areas of a room, including nooks and crannies. UV-C light, which is man-made UV light, performs double-strand breaks to DNA and RNA in bacteria, to which there is no resistance. Once Deal realized he had a product that worked — most importantly, a machine that killed all the mildew in his brother’s bathroom (“If you knew the hygiene habits of my younger brother, you’d understand why we were so excited,” Deal says) — he called in the experts.
Dunn grew up in the UV world. Through his family business, Lumalier Corp., Dunn spent much of his 20s improving indoor air quality with UV technology to prevent the contraction of tuberculosis by HIV/AIDS patients with weakened immune systems. When Dunn was contacted by Deal to see if he was interested in commercializing his invention, Dunn immediately took action. “I bought exclusive patent rights to the innovation and technology,” Dunn says.
That was in 2006, and since then Dunn has worked tirelessly to recruit researchers and leaders in the industry to conduct studies using the Tru-D SmartUVC technology and become the leader in the UV sterilization of hospitals.
“I proceeded to find independent thought leaders and experts in the sterilization and disinfection environment, and researchers from different parts of the country, in hospitals and universities, so that we could step away from the research and have no input on how they were testing,” Dunn says.
The first round of studies concluded that their claims were accurate and that the technology could consistently disinfect an operating room or patient rooms in the intensive care unit. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and the Prevention Epicenter Program at Duke University, and the University of North Carolina conducted a $2 million infection reduction study called “Benefits of Enhanced Terminal Room Disinfection,” which was a double-blind data pool that included 25,000-room disinfection cycles, 100,000 patient days, and nine hospitals of varying sizes.
The study concluded in the summer of 2014, with the collating of the data concluding this past spring. The results will be unveiled at the Infectious Disease Week in San Diego this October.
“This means a huge number of hospitals will have the data they need to make the decision to deploy technology that improves hospital infections,” Dunn says.
Dunn says his product has come about at a very important time in healthcare. “UV was used a lot in the 1930s and ‘40s, in schools and hospitals. Then penicillin came along as an effective antibiotic and the idea of disinfectants fell off,” Dunn says. “What we’ve seen in the past 10 or 15 years is that infections have become drug-resistant. Antibiotics don’t always work anymore. We’re back to the elimination of the passage of pathogens.”
The Tru-D SmartUVC “robots” emit an automated, measured dose of UV lights from a solitary position in the room, ensure 99.99 percent pathogen reduction in a single cycle, and eliminate the threat of human error.
UV-C light is not dangerous to humans, and the low-pressure mercury vapor lamps are endorsed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy for use in health-care environments.
Dunn’s product could not have come about any sooner in light of the Ebola outbreak of 2014.
His company sent two devices to Liberia to disinfect rooms where patients had displayed symptoms, had not yet been diagnosed, and were being moved to other rooms.
“We were able to improve the conditions of these hospitals,” Dunn says, adding, “This has been a valuable entrepreneurial learning experience. Improvements in the field of healthcare require much more than a marketing campaign. You have to demonstrate your claims are factual, and you have to do this through third-party independent research. You have to be patient. And there are challenges, because once an innovation is proven to work in the healthcare community, competition without third-party data enters the space.”
When Dunn is not busy traveling the world to save it, he spends the majority of his time watching his two sons either play music or sports. He says the Innovation Awards serve as a reminder of all the hard work he’s done. “You get so absorbed in your passion that you forget all of the accomplishments that have occurred over the years to get you where you are today. Being recognized forces you to look back in time and see and appreciate your accomplishments.”
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