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NELSON LABORATORIES: S.L. FAMILY BUSINESS MAKES A CLEAN SWEEP IN TESTING FOR BACTERIA

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Dressed in hospital garb, a doctor puts on a surgical mask, approaches the operating table and prepares for a difficult operation. Cleanliness in the operating room is a must, but the doctor leaves the matter of cleanliness to others and focuses his attention on operating procedures.

He knows the equipment is relatively free of bacteria because it has been tested. The doctor has a right to be concerned about contact with germs from the patients, just as he wants to keep his patient free of bacteria.The same is true of a doctor in his office who breaks open a plastic-wrapped device that will be used in the treatment of a patient. Freedom from bacteria is a must.

Enter Nelson Laboratories Inc., 4535 S. 2300 East, a four-year-old full-service contract testing laboratory owned by Jerry and Lynda Nelson and their two children, Jeffery, who is on a mission in Japan for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Amanda, 14, a junior high student.

The laboratory is quickly gaining an international reputation for its work in microbiology, 75 percent of which comes from outside the state. Lynda serves as president and Jerry is secretary-treasurer.

The Nelsons believe that because they own the laboratory and are not affiliated with any organization, they can give an independent microbiological analysis of products submitted to them. Sometimes, their customers send test results to another laboratory as a backup test, but that's OK with the Nelsons.

Medical devices and equipment aren't the only items sent to Nelson for microbiological testing. They also receive drugs, cosmetics, environmental samples and samples from water systems. Jerry said the laboratory takes in a small amount of chemistry testing, but their main focus is on microbiology.

Lynda said, "We picked a small portion of the testing market." Specialization in the laboratory has been successful because the Nelsons have 500 customers, although they prefer the names remain confidential.

One might ask, "How did these Payson natives wind up married and owning a testing lab together?"

Although Lynda (maiden name Smith) was born in Payson, she grew up in Genola and graduated from Payson High School. Jerry was raised in Santaquin and graduated from Payson High School in 1965. They knew of each other in high school but never dated.

After high school, Lynda worked at Tooele Army Depot in inventory control and scheduled the incoming and outgoing supply trucks. Jerry attended Dixie College for two years and received an associate degree in general science. A friend got them together and they dated for two years while Jerry was at Dixie and Lynda worked at TAD.

After their marriage in June 1967, they lived in Tooele and later that fall moved to Salt Lake City where Jerry started at the University of Utah. He graduated in 1969 with a bachelor's degree in microbiology and did some research projects while attending graduate school.

Jerry obtained his master's degree in 1974 and his Ph.D. in 1976. While at the U. he served as the graduate student member of the Promotions and Tenure Committee, was the graduate student on the Curriculum Committee and was a teaching fellow for five years.

As part of his doctoral studies, Jerry worked on new test procedures designed to detect endotoxins and also worked on other samples submitted by local companies. He worked on the projects with Stanley Marcus, a microbiology professor emeritus.

He was approached by Marcus, Paul S. Nicholes, a university professor and developer of the disposable surgical face mask when he worked for Deseret Pharmaceutical, and James LaVoy Sorenson, owner of Sorenson Research.

Feeling their was a need for a medical device testing laboratory in the area, the three men raised $15,000 and hired Jerry to run the lab. By today's standards, Jerry said the $15,000 was a minuscule amount, but "I didn't know it couldn't be done and I got it going."

MIDECO Inc. (Microbiological Development and Control) started in the U. Research Park with Lynda washing the testing equipment to help Jerry.

In 1984, Sorenson purchased the Utah Biomedical Testing Laboratory to make it into a private company and merged it with MIDECO. Services offered by UBTL and MIDECO overlapped in some areas, Jerry said, but on paper the merger looked good. "It had the potential to be the best testing laboratory in the world," he said.

But it didn't work out, so in September 1985 the Nelsons purchased the MIDECO equipment from Sorenson and struck out on their own as Nelson Laboratories Inc. with three other employees. They occupied the same suite that MIDECO had in research park.

Their business grew so much they needed extra space, but none was available in Research Park, so they moved to their present Holladay location. Their building once was the headquarters of Robert L. Rice's European Health Spas, which had been sold to Clark Financial, the present landlord.

With an average of 25 employees, Nelson Laboratories has 7,500 square-feet in its main building and another 1,800 square-feet in the north building.

When asked why the signs identifying the company are small, Jerry said he wants the laboratory to be unobtrusive. That might be difficult because the building is round and the white exterior looks like some large beasts bit into it to give the structure a sculptured look.

Inside the round building, several laboratories have been established to conduct a variety of tests. Nelson experts monitor sterilization processes used in production of medical devices, design cycles used in the sterilization process and make sterility tests on products.

They also "age" products and test them to see how sterile they would be if they had been on the shelf for several months. Nelson experts also help design packages for products, help establish "clean rooms" in companies, educate business owners on how to keep their businesses clean and determine why some products continually have high bacteria counts.

Jerry said an important part of the company's activities has been barrier (face mask) evaluation. He said companies in communist bloc and South American countries, Taiwan, the People's Republic of China, Japan, West Germany and France are making surgical masks and submitting them to Nelson for testing.

Another important part of the Nelson work is testing surgical gowns, surgical drapes, head covers and latex gloves. Jerry said that several years ago, doctors were concerned about transmitting bacteria to patients, but now doctors are just as concerned about keeping patients from transmitting bacteria to them.

There are many other types of tests the Nelsons do, and they have many different types of machines to help them. Their work is often monitored by the Food and Drug Administration because companies requesting the testing must have their product manufacturing process OK'd by the federal agency.

Jerry said microbiology is the last science to become automated and the transition is still in process. He said no animals are used in his laboratory, meaning several alternative tests have been developed as a substitute for live animal tests.

In addition to running their company, the Nelsons have been instrumental in the first two medical device conferences held in Salt Lake City. Nelson Laboratories sponsored the latest conference in late August.

Because there are so many medical device companies in Utah, the Nelsons believe it would be beneficial for the companies to form an association.