Goodbye to Allergies? New Latex Materials Are Safe for Type I, Type IV Allergies

Doctoral student J. Lauren Slutzky (left) and Katrina Cornish make latex gloves for testing at Ohio State's rubber products pilot plant in Wooster. (Photo by Ken Chamberlain)

WOOSTER, Ohio -- New materials developed by Ohio State University will allow medical professionals to have the natural latex gloves whose performance they prefer and avoid the risk of allergic reactions, too.

Scientists in the university's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) have filed patents (pending) for a latex film made from guayule that is safe for both Type I and Type IV latex allergy sufferers, and for a traditional Hevea rubber tree latex film that is Type IV-hypoallergenic.

"Medical professionals prefer natural rubber latex gloves because they are stronger, have more tactile sensitivity, provide superior protection to blood-borne pathogens and cause less hand fatigue," said Katrina Cornish, Ohio State’s Ohio Research Scholar and endowed chair in bioemergent materials, and an expert on alternative sources of rubber.

"However, concerns over latex allergies have led to the increased use of synthetic gloves, which do not meet the performance standards of natural rubber latex and are particularly problematical for surgeons."

In addition to examination and surgical gloves, latex is the preferred material for a host of critical healthcare and consumer products, such as catheters, masks, dental dams, orthodontic rubber bands and condoms.

Cornish said her lab is trying to address public health and industry needs by researching alternative sources of natural rubber latex and developing new production techniques that deal specifically with allergies.

The first latex thin film developed by Cornish and her lab is made from a rubber-producing shrub native to the U.S. Southwest, known as guayule (Parthenium argentatum). Guayule latex is naturally Type I-hypoallergenic, as its proteins do not cross-react with Hevea latex-associated allergic proteins.

"Guayule latex is very resistant, soft, comfortable and less irritating than synthetic materials from which gloves are made," Cornish said. "In its purified form, it contains less than 1 percent of the amount of protein present in Hevea latex, and these guayule proteins have not been associated with any allergic reactions in humans."

While guayule latex offers the advantage of not inducing Type I allergies, Cornish also wanted to find a way to make it safer for those suffering from Type IV allergy, or contact dermatitis. Type IV latex allergy is caused by the residual thiazole, thiuram and carbamate "accelerators" that are added to rubber to speed up the curing reactions and production of latex products.

To deal with this issue, Cornish and her doctoral student J. Lauren Slutzky experimented with different accelerators that don't leave residual chemicals associated with Type IV allergens, developing the right ratios, combinations and composition to account for both hypoallergenicity and performance of the material.

"We were able to create thin films with mechanical properties suitable for a surgical glove as well as other products such as catheters and condoms," Cornish said. "These materials are the first natural rubber latex thin films that are safe for Type I and Type IV allergies and have mechanical properties superior to the industry standard for rubber surgical gloves."

Cornish also applied the same alternative accelerators to high- and low-protein Hevea rubber latexes, making thin films that are Type IV-hypoallergenic.

A licensing agreement to commercialize the materials has been worked out, Cornish said. Additionally, a startup company -- EnergyEne Inc., headquartered in Wooster -- has been established to lead the development and commercialization of products made from these novel latex materials. Cornish is the company's CEO.

Ohio State's alternative natural rubber research and development activities are carried out on the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), which is the research arm of CFAES.


CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Katrina Cornish