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Monday, 23 September 2019
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Raw materials & technologies, Technologies

Anti-bacterial coatings combat hospital-acquired infections

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

A new discovery could control the spread of deadly antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which experts fear are on course to kill 10 million people every year by 2050 – more than will die from cancer.

Superbugs could become deadlier than cancer and are on course to kill 10 million people globally by 2050. Source: tigatelu/Fotolia.com

Superbugs could become deadlier than cancer and are on course to kill 10 million people globally by 2050. Source: tigatelu/Fotolia.com

A team of scientists, led by Professor Suresh C. Pillai from IT Sligo, one of Ireland’s most successful third level educational institutions, have made the significant breakthrough which will allow everyday items to be protected against deadly bacteria, including MRSA and E. coli. The research was published in international scientific journal, Scientific Reports.

From smartphones to door handles

Using nanotechnology, the discovery is an effective and practical antimicrobial solution — an agent that kills microorganisms or inhibits their growth — that can be used to protect a range of everyday items. Items include anything made from glass, metallics and ceramics including computer or tablet screens, smartphones, ATMs, door handles, TVs, handrails, lifts, urinals, toilet seats, fridges, microwaves and ceramic floor or wall tiles. It will be of particular use in hospitals and medical facilities which are losing the battle against the spread of killer superbugs. Other common uses would include in swimming pools and public buildings, on glass in public buses and trains, sneeze guards protecting food in delis and restaurants as well as in clean rooms in the medical sector.

Controlling the spread of bacteria

 "It’s absolutely wonderful to finally be at this stage. This breakthrough will change the whole fight against superbugs. It can effectvely control the spread of bacteria,” said Prof. Pillai. He continued: "Every single person has a sea of bacteria on their hands. The mobile phone is the most contaminated personal item that we can have. Bacteria grows on the phone and can live there for up to five months. As it is contaminated with proteins from saliva and from the hand, It’s fertile land for bacteria and has been shown to carry 30 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.”

Until now, all materials were toxic

As there is nothing that will effectively kill antibiotic-resistant superbugs completely from the surface of items, scientists have been searching for a way to prevent the spread. This has been in the form of building or ‘baking’ antimicrobial surfaces into products during the manufacturing process. However, until now, all these materials were toxic or needed UV light in order to make them work. This meant they were not practical for indoor use and had limited commercial application.

Solution is "baked" into the product

"The challenge was the preparation of a solution that was activated by indoor light rather than UV light and we have now done that,” said Prof Pillai. The new water-based solution can be sprayed onto any glass, ceramic or metallic surface during the production process, rendering the surface 99.9 per cent resistant to superbugs like MRSA, E. coli and other fungi. The solution is sprayed on the product — such as a smartphone glass surface — and then ‘baked’ into it, forming a super-hard surface. The coating is transparent, permanent and scratch resistant and actually forms a harder surface than the original glass or ceramic material.

Adapting for use in paint

The team first developed the revolutionary material to work on ceramics and has spent the last five years adapting the formula – which is non-toxic and has no harmful bi-products ‑ to make it work on glass and metallic surfaces. Research is now underway by the group on how to adapt the solution for use in plastics and paint, allowing even wider use of the protective material.

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