Research leads to new exam gloves

Oct. 13, 2005
SmartPractice CEO discovers new prickly pear species.

Since moving to the Valley of the Sun in 1991 to join the family business as medical director in charge of clinical research, Curt Hamann, MD, has pursued his naturalist curiosity studying the history, phylogeny, biochemistry and physiology of the prickly pear cactus (Nopal).

His hobby merged with his entrepreneurial spirit when, in 2003, the FDA issued a 510(k) for le soothe medical/dental examination gloves that incorporate polysaccharide extracts from both Nopal and Aloe vera into the latex formulation.

Nopal cacti are endemic only to the Americas and the majority of the species are found in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. While retracing the steps of Dr. Donald Pinkava (a renowned prickly pear cactus expert at Arizona State University) in the deserts of Central Mexico, Dr. Hamann and his son found a plant that they immediately suspected as a new discovery.

Dr. Hamann returned to the site with Raul Puente, a graduate student of Dr. Pinkava and curator of the living collection at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, to begin the formal process of species description. Opuntia xcarstenii, published in this month's Cactus and Succulent Journal, is the culmination of this journey honoring Dr. Hamann's son, Carsten, who was an active participant in the expedition.

Although Nopal cacti originate from the Americas they are now in commercial cultivation all over the world for both their fruit and pads (leaves). The prickly pear cactus fruit (commonly called tuna) are a staple throughout Mexico, Latin America and the Mediterranean, eaten fresh and used in drinks, jams, jellies and candy.

Forty tons per day of the pads are imported from Mexico into Texas during harvest season. A portion of the pads are distributed fresh, frozen or canned for consumption as a vegetable alternative with a consistency much like okra.

The remainder is processed similar to Aloe vera and the extracts are sold to the cosmetic, medical and sundry manufacturers for use in everything from lipstick, hand lotions and shampoos to cholesterol and blood sugar lowering tablets.

Try some Extreme Conditioning Cream from Elizabeth Arden with the nopal extract...only $40/ounce! The nopal polysaccharides (starch) critical to survival in the xerophytic conditions of the desert are able to absorb four times more water than cornstarch and two times more water than Aloe vera starch (extract).

When it rains the nopal are equipped to capture and store water with unexpected efficiency and then release the water for normal metabolism as needed. Importing these properties to an examination glove has been Dr. Hamann's objective.

Absorb unwanted perspiration created beneath the glove yet return moisture to the hand when the skin is dry. This is a bit counter intuitive but chronically damp skin beneath a glove has a tendency to become dry and irritated (chapped).

The nopal cactus also has a 300-year fascinating history as the exclusive diet for a beetle which when harvested is the source of what has been called the perfect red. The insect is dried, ground and processed and used to this day to dye fabric, restore color to uncooked beef and keep the color of your compari and soda a topic of conversation! Probably didn't know it was crushed beetle!

Further back in history the Aztecs established the capitol of their empire in Mexico City because of the fulfillment of a prophecy that the location would be marked by the discovery of an eagle eating a snake on top of an arborescent nopal. Mexico commemorates this heritage by incorporating the nopal, eagle, and snake into the white center panel of their national flag.

To learn more about O xcarstenii or le soothe exam gloves, please contact Dr. Hamann at [email protected].