US 3851436 A
A continuous flow of gas plasma is admitted to a substantially evacuated sterilization chamber containing the object to be sterilized. Argon plasma is produced continually by being subjected to a radio frequency field. Complex shapes such as capillary passages through a blood oxygenator can be sterilized by passing the gas plasma through them. The exterior of objects to be sterilized can be subjected to gas plasma within a packaging envelope, and subsequent to sterilization such envelope can be evacuated and collapsed onto the object to preserve its sterile character.
Claims available in
Description (OCR text may contain errors)
Fraser et al.
[ Dec. 3, 1974 STERILIZING AND PACKAGING PROCESS 3,323,163 5/1968 Menashi....- 21/54 R UTILIZING GAS PLASMA 3,516,223 6/l970 Andersen et al. 53/112 B 3,600,126 8/1971 Hcllund 2l/l02 R Inventors: Sheila .1. Fraser, Sea Roger 3,705,652 12 1972 Russman 23/25 8.5
Gillette, Auburn; Richard L. Olson, Benevue an of wash- Primary ExaminerM0rris O. Wolk  Assignee: The Boeing Company, Seattle, Assistant Examiner T- Hagan Wash. Attorney, Agent, or Firm-Robert W. Beach  Filed: Dec. 13, 1971  ABSTRACT [21'] Appl' 207487 A continuous flow of gas plasma is admitted to a substantially evacuated sterilization chamber containing 52] us. (:1. 53/21 FC, 21/54 R, 21/102, the Object to be sterilized. Argon plasma is Produced 53 3 25 5 continually by being subjected to a-radio frequency 51 1m. (:1 B65b 31/02, B65b 55/12 fibld- Complex Shapes Such as Capillary P g  Field at Search 21/54, 102; 53/22, 111 R, through a blood bxygenatbr can be sterilized y p 53 1 A, 111 B 111 RC 112 R, 112 A, 112 ing the gas plasma through them. The exterior of ob- B 21 3 3 3 5 jects to be sterilized can be subjected to gas plasma 20 32 R; 250/531 within a packaging envelope, and subsequent to sterilization such. envelope can be evacuated and collapsed 56] References Cited onto the object to preserve its sterile character. UNITED STATES PATENTS 6 Claims, 4 Drawing Figures 2,972,349 -2/l96l DeWall 23/2585 "Zak/METER E I .coou/va 6 (EM E aint/2,4770 CHANEL-E /Z DIFFUSION? MfC/M/Y/CAL VACUUM PUMPS EE MATCH/N6 FF g NETWORK V41 V15 GE/VEEA 7'0 I 5 (7 3 2 f FUWEE METEIZ "9 1 STERILIZING AND PACKAGING PROCESS UTILIZING GAS PLASMA This invention relates to the sterilization by the use of coal gas plasma of articles sufficiently fragile so that they cannot be subjected to a high pressure differential or which are made of material that will become plastic ormelt at high temperatures, or which would be damaged if subjected to thermal shock by an abrupt temperature change.
A principal object of the present invention is to provide a sterilizing and packaging process in which the sterilizing effectiveness of gas plasma is increased by providing a continued flow of the gas plasma over surfaces to be sterilized with minimum dilution by air.
Another object is to cover immediately surfaces which have been sterilized by flow of gas plasma over them so as to preserve their sterile character.
F IG. 1 is adiagram of representative sterilizing apparatus utilizing gas plasma according to the present invention. l I
1316' 2. s a. dia ta of anqt zqnm of s ih i t apization chamber 1.
paratususing the plasma process of the present invention, parts being shown in section. FIG. 3 and FIG. 4 are detail elevations of somewhat modified portions of the apparatus shown in-FIG. 2. i
Sterilization of articles by the process of the present invention is accomplished in a sterilization chamber 1. An article 2 to besterilized is inserted into such chamber through a suitable aperture closable to withstand substantial external pressure. Preferably the chamber is provided in a metal casing of cylindrical shape which can be evacuated without collapsing.
Gas such as argon from-which the gas plasma is produced is supplied from a tank 3-in which it is stored under pressure through a'flowmeter' 4to the plasma production conduit 5 connected to one end of the sterilization chamber 1. Such 'plasma produ ction conduit is subjected 'to a radio-frequency field created by the electrodes 6, whi ch may'encircle such conduit. A suitable radio-frequency generator 7-is' connected to the electrodes '6 through an impedance matching network 8 for coupling the ,capacitativeelectrodes 6 to an amplifier of the radio-frequency generator 7. The oscillator and amplifier of the radio-frequency generator should be capable of producing up to'3'00 watts of continuous power'as indicated by the power meter 9.
It may be desirable to cool the plasma generator conduit 5 by passing cooling water through the cooling jacket 10. The supply of gas to the plasma generator can be regulated by a valve 11 as wellas automatically by the flowmeter 4; and the flowmeter pressure gauge 12 will indicate the amount of gas supplied to the plasma-generating tube 5. 3 r
The quantity of gasplasma flowing through the'sterilization chamber 1 is determined, not only by the flow meter 4 and the valve 11, but also by the pressure in the sterilization chamber 1 through which the plasma flows. The pressure in such sterilization chamber is preferably quite low, not exceeding a few millimeters of mercury. The pressure in'the sterilization chamber could'be indicatedby a pressure gauge 14.
The supply of gas to the plasma generator from the tank 3 can be controlled by a shutoff valve 15. When it is desired to use the apparatus, the article to be sterilized is placed in the sterilization chamber l, the vacuum pump 13 is started to evacuate the chamber; and the shut-off valve 15 is openedto enable gas'to flow The radio-frequency generator 7 is then energized and the impedance matching network 8 is adjusted to minimize reflected power. The article is subjected to the flow over it of the gas plasma passing through the sterilization chamber for the period of time required to effect sterilization. Reductions in microbial population as much as 99% have been accomplished by exposure of the article .to be sterilized to plasma flowfor a period of time as short as five minutes.
When the sterilization of the particular article has been completed, the radio frequency generator 7 is deenergized, the gas supply valve I5 is closed, and the vacuum pump 13 is stopped or its connection to the sterilization chamber is severed by a suitable valve. The sterilization chamber is then vented to atmosphere, the chamber is opened, and the sterilized object removed from it.
The apparatus shown in FIGS. 2, 3 and 4 is of the type particularly adapted to the sterilization of artificial lung blood oxygenators. The apparatus preferably is capable of sterilizing several of such oxygenators at the same time, three of such oxygenators, 2a, 2b and 2c, being shown in FIG. 2. Such oxygenators are housed in the sterilization chamber 1 during the sterilization operation. Thev apparatus shown in FIG. 2 includes components generally similar to those described in connection with the apparatus of FIG. 1. v
Gas to be excited into plasma is'supplied from the supplying tank 3 through the flowmeter ,4,-to a' manifold 5' of the plasma generator.- The amount of gas flow is indicated by the flowmeter pressure gauge 12 and the flow to the sterilization chamber'canbe' initiated and terminated by operation of the shutoffvalve 15. Flow of the gas plasma through the sterilization chamber 1' is induced by suction created by the vacuum pump 13. Theconnection between the sterilization chamber and the vacuum pump can be severed by closing valve 16 to avoid the necessity of stopping thevacuum pump between sterilizing operations. An oil trap I'Zmay be included in the suction line to pump 13, an'd a venting valve l8 for connecting the sterilization chamber 1' with atmosphere may be provided in the suction line to the vacuum pump. I
Individual pipes 5'f connect the manifold 5 to the individual oxygenators 2a, 2b and 2c, respectively-A radio frequency field. for converting the gas to plasma is produced by the exciters 6 in each of the gassupply pipes 5". The radio-frequency field is created by such exciters connected'to the radio-frequency generator 7, including an oscillator and an amplifier. The impedance matching network is adjusted by the radiofrequency tuner'8, and the power ,of the radio frequency oscillator is indicated by the wattmeter 9'.
The blood oxygenators to be sterilized are shown in oxygenator includes a multiplicity of capillary tubes 22 through which the gas plasma flows slowly to effect the sterilizing action. The resistance to flow of gas plasma through different oxygenators may vary, and the opening of valves 19 can be adjusted to equalize the flow effected through the oxygenators from the common manifold Although it is only essential that the interiors of the capillary passages through the oxygenator be sterile because only such capillary passages come into contact with blood being oxygenated, it is desirable to have a completely sterilized oxygenator packaged in a sealed container to facilitate storage. It is therefore desirable to provide for flow of gas plasma over the exterior of the oxygenator at the same time that gas plasma is flowing through the capillary passages of the oxygenator.
FIG. 3 shows an enclosure 23 for the oxygenator having an inlet 24 and an outlet 25 for flow of gas plasma between the enclosure and the exterior of the oxygenator to the interior of the sterilization chamber 1' shown in FIG. 2. Such enclosure is sealed around the inlet 20 and the exit 21 for the gas plasma flowing through the interior of the oxygenator. If the enclosure is in the form of a plastic bag, the openings 20, 21, 24 and 25 can all be sealed to maintain the sterilized condition both of the interior and of the exterior of the oxygenator.
In the construction shown in FIG. 4 the gas plasma flows through the interior of the oxygenator 2' and then over the exterior of the oxygenator sequentially. In this instance the plasma exit 21 from the interior of the oxygenator discharges into the interior of the enclosure 23. The gas plasma is then discharged from the interior of such enclosure, after passing over the exterior of the oxygenator, through the exit 25' to the interior of the sterilization chamber 1' shown in FIG. 2. With the use of such an arrangement it is necessary to close only the inlet passage 20 leading to the interior of the oxygenator, and the exit 25' leading from the enclosure 23.
By providing continual flow of the gas plasma through the apparatus and over the surfaces of the arti-' cle to be sterilized, the sterilizing operation is effected in a more efficient and expeditious manner. The sterilizing action of the gas plasma is also rendered more effective and consequently more expeditious by exposing the surfaces tobe sterilized in a low pressure atmosphere, so that the gas plasma is more dense. The gas plasma can be formed from various gases, but preferably is derived from a monatomic inert gas such as argon, helium or xenon. Such a gas may be excited to form gas plasma by utilizing known techniques such as by subjecting it to a radio-frequency field as discussed above, by a technique such as described in the articles Analytical Applications of Electrodelessly Discharged Gases and Research With Electrodelessly Discharged Gases published in the periodical Journal of Chemical Education, Volume 43, Number 5, May. 1966 and Number 6, June, 1966, respectively.
While the specific application of the sterilization process described above with respect to FIGS. 2, 3 and 4 relates to the sterilization of oxygenators, the process is particularly advantageous for the sterilization of various kinds of medical and hospital equipment. Another important application of the process is for sterilization of excrement or other waste material which must be stored for a time, such as in an airplane or a spacecraft, before being discarded. Such waste material may be ejected from a spacecraft and should be sterilized before ejection.
1. The process of sterilizing an article which comprises'enclosing the article in a container, enclosing the container in a sealable chamber, maintaining subatmosphere pressure in the chamber and in the container, and, while maintaining such subatmosphere pressure in the chamber and in the container, flowing nonoxidizing gas plasma into the container, over a surface of the article to be sterilized and then out of the container into the portion of the chamber exteriorly of the container, terminating such flow of gas plasma through the container, and sealing the container to form a sterilized package for the article.
2. The process defined in claim 1, in which the container is a plastic bag having sealable openings.
3. The process defined in claim 1, in which the flow of gas plasma is passed sequentially over the interior and exterior surfaces of the article.
4. The process defined in claim 3, in which the article is a blood oxygenator having a plurality of capillary passages therethrough and a flow of nonoxidizing gas plasma is passed through the capillary passages.
5. The process defined in claim 1, in which the article is a blood oxygenator having a plurality of capillary passages therethrough and a flow of nonoxidizing gas plasma is passed through the capillary passages.
6. The process defined in claim 5, in which the container is a plastic bag having an opening, the oxygenator has a tube extending through the opening of the plastic bag and communicating with the interior of the oxygenator, and such bag opening and tube are sealable after the flow of nonoxidizing gas plasma through the bag opening and the tube has been terminated.
UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE CERTIFICATE OF CORRECTION patent 3,851,436 December 3, 1974 Inventor(s) Shelia J. Fraser, Roger B. Gillette and Richard L. Olson It is certified that error appears in the above-identified patent and that said Letters Patent are hereby corrected as shown below:
Column 1, line 4, cancel "coal" and insert cool-n En'gned and Scaled this Twentieth Day of February 1979 [SEAL] Attestn A ,B RUTH c. MASON W W ER Attesting Oflicer Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks