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University of Utah's Nontoxic Treatment for Lice a Boon for Schools and Clinics

  [ 9 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • December 8, 2010

"It's the volume of air [high] as much as the temperature [warm but cooler than common blow dryers] that kills lice." And that’s the beauty of the FDA-approved LouseBuster - invented at the University of Utah and available for lease or sale.

Four years after the LouseBuster prototype made headlines when research showed the chemical-free, warm-air device wiped out head lice on children, a new study reveals that a revamped, government-cleared model is highly effective.

"For a louse, it's like sticking your head out a window at 100 miles an hour; they're going to get dried out," says University of Utah biology Professor Dale Clayton, senior author of the study and a founder of Larada Sciences, a university research spinoff company that sells or leases the LouseBuster to nonprofits such as schools, camps, and medical clinics, as well as delousing businesses.

The new study of 56 louse-infested children and adults - to be published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Medical Entomology - found 94.8% of lice and their eggs, known as nits, were dead after treatment with the LouseBuster. [By comparison with commonly used insecticides that don’t kill nits and are becoming less effective as lice evolve immunity.]

The original LouseBuster prototype proved effective in a study published in November 2006 in the journal Pediatrics. But it was noisy, wouldn't plug into home electrical outlets and got tangled in curly hair. It looked like a cumbersome canister vacuum with a hose on it, and blew warm air through a comb-like applicator.

After the first study, thousands of people with louse-infested children contacted Clayton and the University of Utah seeking the device, even though it was only a research prototype and was meant for eventual use by school nurses and other delousing professionals, not private individuals.

It took three more years for the revamped LouseBuster to hit the market after gaining U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance as a medical device. It was patented in September 2010.

"We've moved from clinical trials to having the machine available so infested people can get treated by this device. It's not a prototype anymore," says the study's first author, Sarah Bush, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah.

The new LouseBuster features improvements over the prototype: less noise, the ability to plug into a standard electrical outlet and an applicator that doesn't get tangled in hair. The applicator delivers air through 28 cone-shaped tips held against the scalp.

Larada Sciences sells the LouseBuster for $2,000 to $2,500 to nonprofit organizations such as schools and medical clinics. The company also has various sale or lease arrangements with trained and certified LouseBuster operators who provide treatments in salons or clients' homes for $125 to $275 per person. Such small delousing businesses have been springing up recently as head lice have become more prevalent.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, Utah Centers of Excellence program and Larada Sciences. Prof. Clayton and some other authors have a financial interest in the company.

Source: University of Utah news release, Dec 5, 2010

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