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Guayule Latex Process Is Licensed

By Marcia A. Wood
January 22, 1997

ALBANY, Calif., Jan. 22--A newly patented process to make hypoallergenic latex has now been licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Philadelphia-based Yulex Corp.

Yulex will use a procedure developed by Katrina Cornish of USDA's Agricultural Research Service, Albany, Calif., to make hypoallergenic latex products from the rubber of a shrub called guayule (pronounced "why-YOU-lee”).

Known to botanists as Parthenium argentatum, guayule is native to the southwest and has been grown experimentally in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

"It has been estimated that at least 20 million Americans suffer from latex allergies that can be triggered by using latex gloves, condoms or other natural rubber products," said Cornish. Allergy symptoms range from rashes and hives to life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

"The allergic responses," said Cornish, "are triggered by proteins in rubber from the conventional source, the Brazilian rubber treeHeveabrasiliensis.More than 40,000 products are made from Hevea rubber, including about 300 medical products such as catheters and surgical gloves. But guayule is a promising source of high-quality natural rubber that will not trigger this specific allergy inHevea-allergic individuals."

"Products manufactured from guayule may not only offer a safe alternative for Hevea allergy sufferers, but may also protect future generations from allergic reactions to latex," said Yulex president Daniel R. Swiger.

According to Cornish, preliminary medical tests suggest that guayule-latex products would be safe for use by individuals who already suffer from Hevea-latex allergies. For the tests, Cornish collaborated with medical researchers at the Woodland Clinic Medical Group, Woodland, Calif.; Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, R.I.; and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md.

Swiger said his company's initial market will be healthcare professionals who now routinely wear gloves as protection against AIDS and other infectious diseases. "Large-scale production of guayule latex is feasible," he said. "Its commercialization will directly address the problem of Hevea-latex allergies."

Selecting guayule as a source of natural rubber isn't a new idea. But Cornish and her team at the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany are the first to recognize--and later prove--guayule's potential as a source of hypoallergenic latex.

"This high-value product," Cornish noted, "offers a new economic opportunity for growers in the American Southwest."