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Matthew T. Scholz, a corporate scientist in the Infection Prevention Division Laboratory at 3M, is recognized for technical achievement in both the development and commercialization of many important products, including those saving lives by preventing healthcare-related infections. He is the inventor or co-inventor on more than 150 issued U.S. patents. 

In over 35 years with the company, Scholz has been responsible for development of products that help repair broken bones, protect wounds, and keep doctors and patients safe from infection. His inventions include splints and cast padding used to stabilize fractures, sterile adhesive incise drapes used in surgery (a bandage that adheres to skin around the surgical site, used to reduce the risk of surgical site infections by immobilizing bacterial and providing continuous antimicrobial activity), anti-fog and anti-reflective films used in disposable face shields and diagnostics, and products designed to prevent ventilator associated pneumonia.

Scholz has been integrally involved with the commercialization of many 3M products, with cumulative annual sales exceeding $2.5 billion. Some of the most recognizable products are: Scotchcast™ (orthopedic) Casting Tape, Avagard™ Instant Hand Antiseptic with Moisturiser, 3M Isoban™ 2 Antimicrobial Incise Drape, and ScotchBlue™ Painter’s Tape.

His first and most well-known invention is the Scotchcast Plus Casting Tape, a knitted fiberglass fabric containing a polyurethane resin that is wrapped around limbs to immobilize broken bones. Before he and his team developed their casting tape, the primary solution to set broken limbs was a plaster cast, which is heavy. It was not possible to take an X-ray through it, and the cast would break down in water. Even without water, it would deteriorate.

“We spent a lot of time going out to cast technicians’ and doctors’ offices learning about what they wanted,” Scholz reports. “We do it routinely now, but it was new ground then.” They learned the technicians and doctors wanted something that applied like plaster of Paris, with strength and resilience, but also allowed taking X-rays through it, like synthetics. Scholz says it is a bit of an oxymoron because what they needed was to come up with a slippery adhesive.

Scotchcast Plus is easier for technicians to apply, more convenient for doctors to X-ray through, and lighter for patients to wear. Scholz’s first invention is more than 25 years old, and it continues to help both patients and health care providers.

Scholz’s more recent work has focused on saving lives by preventing healthcare infections. In 2007, he and other 3M scientists discovered nearly 300,000 patients were affected by surgical-site infections (SSIs) each year in the United States. The team learned of increasing concern about infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus and other potentially deadly forms of that bacterial strain. Scholz estimates up to 60% of people are some sort of carrier. The most common preventive measure required that patients apply an ointment into each nostril twice a day for five days prior to surgery. The rate of non-compliance was significant.  

He and his team developed and rigorously tested a number of chemical formulations to address this problem. In 2010, the 3M™ Skin and Nasal Antiseptic Patient Preoperative Skin Preparation hit the market. In the years since, it has greatly reduced surgical site infections. Scholz says a key reason it is more effective is that it only needs to be applied once - in the patient’s nose at the hospital - an hour before surgery.

Scholz is passionate about making sure people don’t get an infection in the hospital. He says: “If you see what these people go through, it is absolutely devastating. Imagine getting a hip implant and then a month or two later finding out that you have an infection so bad they have to take you back into surgery to take the implant out, put you on IV antibiotics for two months, and then try to put the implant back in. So, you have gone through three surgeries. You may not survive.”

Scholz was born in Elmhurst, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He attended the University of Michigan, where he received a B.S. degree in chemical engineering.  After taking a job with 3M, he returned to school two years later and obtained a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota, attending part-time while working full-time.

He describes himself as a “gear-head” while growing up. He souped-up cars and had a lawn-mowing business. He modified the mowers to get more done faster and to pick up the grass cleaner. He even modified the mower blades, putting wings on them before manufacturers did so, to get more grass into the bags.

Scholz credits his innovative boss and the collaborative process at 3M for his success. He says in 30 years of working for 3M, he was never turned down when he asked for help, and that the number of people he had asked probably approached thousands. “If you look at the list of patents I have, you will find very few have me listed as the only inventor,” he said. “There are always co-inventors.”  

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