Are the most potent coronavirus protection masks made in Israel?

Material with untold uses, including as antidote to health care-associated infections, was developed in Israel.

Inventor Jeffrey Gabbay with copper-infused cotton fibers. -  (photo credit: FELICE FRIEDSON/TML PHOTOS)
Inventor Jeffrey Gabbay with copper-infused cotton fibers. -
Textile scientist Jeffrey Gabbay no doubt appreciates the importance of timing: While masses of masked men and women are making airports and the streets of the world’s major cities look like sci-fi movie sets, his company’s process for turning common cotton fibers into a defensive wall of copper-infused fabric, denying entry to germs and bacteria, is arguably the most potent protection from the coronavirus. Witness an order from Hong Kong for disposable face masks.
“I only had enough material for 1 million masks, and they are all sold out,” Gabbay told The Media Line at his Jerusalem plant. Masks made in Israel that last for a person’s entire lifetime but are deadly on contact to bacteria and viruses are in production and will soon be available through an Amazon store.
The breakthrough – Gabbay, who invented the copper technology, says it is the only such applied science – came prior to coronavirus crashing onto the scene, sending shock waves of chaos and concern around the globe.
Even before he perfected his copper-based process that beneficially infuses cotton fibers, the list of potential applications was as long as one’s imagination and as broad as experience with germs and disease had taught.
In fact, months prior to the coronavirus outbreak cloaking the issue with the solemnity appropriate for a matter of life and death, Gabbay had told The Media Line, by way of extolling the benefits of his breakthrough, that “our socks don’t smell.” More miracle than breakthrough.
Visiting the pristine Jerusalem factory of Gabbay’s Argaman Technologies, a reference to the garments worn by the high priests in Judaism’s Holy Temples, the process through which copper particles are embedded inside cotton fibers resembles commercial pasta-making on steroids. Gearing up for the mass market, while the pilot production yields about one ton per week, the facility’s capacity upon completion will be ten tons per day.
Gabbay exudes a professorial persona as he walks among the machinery, some off-the-shelf and others proprietary equipment that he designed and built. He explains how his process allows the properties of “any chemical we want” to be infused into a cotton fiber. Odors aside, the Jerusalem-based scientist-entrepreneur excitedly connects the dots, and a portrait of possibilities emerges.
“We have cotton that doesn’t burn, you can’t ignite it,” Gabbay tells The Media Line as we visualize the iconic photographs of vast fields of cotton ablaze under farmers’ control. “Or we have cotton that can cause sterilization of a textile.” Even before it is spelled out, what comes to mind are health care-associated infections (HAIs) – like staphylococcus infections that are dangerous to hospital patients – having written a story relating to such a situation not long ago.
The person who was the subject of that article suffered a sudden death shortly after being admitted to a hospital for a back problem and contracting such an infection. His loss was devastating to an entire community. But what if his hospital gown and bedding had killed the staph bacteria and not the patient?
As if mind reading, Gabbay mentioned that Argaman has just completed a test at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control that demonstrated a 25% reduction in HAIs by changing patients’ gowns and bedding to his company's self-sterilizing copper-infused textiles, along with a 40% reduction in multi-drug-resistant organisms – and the supposition that an even more dramatic result was stymied by pathogens hitching rides on the garments of hospital employees.
Already growing into a global operation, fabric earmarked for use in the United States will be American-made, while production of the fabric to be tested in Israel, some 100,000 meters worth, is being made in Turkey after being treated in Israel. As far as items that will be produced, “all things hospital” – including bedding, nurses’ uniforms, lab coats, scrubs and robes.
GABBAY'S PARENTS emigrated from Baghdad in 1946, two years before he was born, and moved to Israel in 1973. Educated in New York and Italy, his academic platform is his background in textile engineering, chemistry, biochemistry and infectious diseases. It’s therefore not surprising that his analysis of the task at hand is to halt the symptoms by cutting off the root cause.
Pointing out that “textiles are fabulous incubators” and “bacteria will grow almost any place,” Gabbay explains the inadequacy of seeking an antimicrobial solution because “the bugs will come back.” However, “when we talk about self-sterilization, we are talking about an absolute. If we want to control infection in the hospital, we need the absolute.” Absolutely.
Gabbay says enthusiastically that "chemicals all have fabulous properties” and he is able to inject cotton fibers with whatever chemical is appropriate for the task-at-hand – witness the face masks. Another example: Diabetics, who need to be ever-alert to cuts and sores on their feet, benefit from copper-infused cotton. Gabbay says, “You won’t feel the difference, you won’t know the difference,” but the medical benefit speaks for itself.
Gabbay has worked with the Israeli military to create garments from copper-infused cotton to make life more bearable for soldiers who might walk for miles and not change socks for weeks. Imagine a wounded soldier being able to secure an open wound by placing his T-shirt on it. He is also working with NASA to develop spacesuits that will prevent penetration of radiation that could kill an astronaut traveling to Mars.
Anyone who has followed the life of a drug from inception to pharmacy knows how long and challenging the course can be. According to Gabbay, it’s not a matter of approval, “it’s a matter of what claims you can make.” In the case of his fabrics, antimicrobial claims are okay to make – but wound healing isn't, because it becomes “a medical issue and involves the FDA and the testing.” The antimicrobial claims can be made because “the socks will destroy all bacteria and fungus that touch them, so we can start selling the product tomorrow.”
ACCORDING TO the Centers for Disease Control, HAIs infect some 1.7 million patients in the United States each year, resulting in about 99,000 deaths. In a hospital setting, attention is focused on the bio-burden [the number of bacteria living on a surface that has not been sterilized], the reduction of which reduces patients’ exposure to pathogens and therefore to infections. Gabbay’s strategy calls for addressing hard and soft surfaces and then treating every soft surface in the hospital – anything made from textiles including bedding, gowns, uniforms and clothing of any kind including disposable garments. Hard surfaces such as countertops and tables in both patient and public areas are cleaned by a system also developed by Argaman.
What was found in this first evidence-based test was an impressive “50% reduction in the bio-burden of multi-drug resistant microbes when only the sheets and gowns were changed.” Future suggested tests will measure the influence of bio-burden reduction on the infection rate, a challenge the Argaman team is clearly up for. But like the test described above, the next one will also be performed by an independent third-party lab with no connection to Gabbay or his company.
When Dr. Robert Davis – a physician-entrepreneur who invested in Argaman – recounted his introduction to Gabbay, it began to sound like a movie plot.  He told The Media Line that “when Jeff Gabbay came to me and told me about [his technology], I didn’t believe it. It sounded too good to be true… You know CottonX, that’s fireproof, it won’t burn, it’s self-sterilizing. It will cure all sorts of diabetic or decubitus ulcers and then they got this pillowcase that will take away wrinkles. And I said, ‘Boloney!’”
But Davis quickly became a believer in what he termed this “platform technology with many different applications,” calling it “tremendous.” “You know, there’s going to be hospitals, clinics, geriatric facilities where the use of these sheets and gowns and socks will really change a patient’s life.” So much so that among markets seen as receptive to Argaman, there are a number of Gulf countries that not long ago would eschew business so closely associated with the State of Israel.
It doesn’t require a scientific degree to see applications for Argaman technology, in such categories as “hospital, military and cosmetic,” including what Gabbay calls “healthy home.” Dr. Phyllis Levine, who holds a medical degree and graduated from MIT with a degree in material science and engineering, explained to The Media Line that as important as the antimicrobial technology’s implementation is to hospitals, the home cannot be overlooked. “Most kitchens are at risk of contamination by microorganisms, some of which, at times, may even be life threatening,” she said. “Both food and nonfood items can introduce them, even into the most pristine appearing kitchen."
For example, foods can contain bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli, and placing an innocuous item, such as your purse, on a countertop is no different than standing with your dirty shoes on a surface used to prepare and eat food. Health improving kitchen accessories will include items such as towels, sponges, aprons, mops, appliance covers, containers and cutting boards, to name a few.
At a time when there is pandemic fear of the coronavirus and the wearing of masks is quickly becoming the norm rather than the exception, Gabbay’s good-for-life mask will be available for $50. Meanwhile, the myriad applications being developed by Argaman Technologies with his copper-infused cotton technology is positioned to save countless lives.
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