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Irish discovery could help stop superbugs like MRSA

The nanotechnology has a 99.9% kill rate.

Professor Pillai
Professor Pillai
Image: IT Sligo

A DISCOVERY BY a team of scientists in Ireland could control the spread of deadly antibiotic-resistant superbugs which experts fear could kill 10 million people every year by 2050 – more than will die from cancer.

A team of scientists, led by Professor Suresh C Pillai from IT Sligo, have made a breakthrough which will allow everyday items such as smartphones and door handles to be protected against deadly bacteria including MRSA and E coli.

The group’s research was published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

The nanotechnology has a 99.9% kill rate and uses an agent that kills microorganisms or inhibits their growth.

Anything made from glass, metallics and ceramics can be protected, including computer or tablet screens, smartphones, ATMs, door handles, TVs, toilet seats and fridges.

The researchers said it will be of particular use in hospitals and medical facilities.

It could also be used in swimming pools, on public transport, and on sneeze guards protecting food in delis and restaurants, as well as in clean rooms in the medical sector.

The discovery is the culmination of almost 12 years of research by a team of scientists led by Pillai, initially at the Centre for Research in Engineering Surface Technology in DIT and then at IT Sligo’s Nanotechnology Research Group.

DCU, the University of Surrey and Kastus Technologies were also involved in the research.

“It’s absolutely wonderful to finally be at this stage. This breakthrough will change the whole fight against superbugs. It can effectively control the spread of bacteria,” Pillai said.

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.”

UV light

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 these materials were toxic or needed UV light in order to make them work.

shutterstock_395675587 File photo Source: Shutterstock/Jarun Ontakrai

“The challenge was the preparation of a solution that was activated by indoor light rather than UV light and we have now done that,” Pillai said.

The new water-based solution can be sprayed onto any glass, ceramic or metallic surface during the production process, rendering the surface 99.9% 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 surface that is transparent, permanent and scratch-resistant.

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Órla Ryan

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