Nanotechnology deployed in textiles to fight global MRSA bug

2 Oct 2008

A novel approach of deploying nanotechnology in textiles to reduce MRSA infection rates in hospitals has resulted in an Irish university team winning funding of €5m to carry out the necessary R&D.

The University of Limerick (UL) team has partnered with nine other European agencies, as well as National University of Ireland Galway and Irish companies BeoCare and Cook Medical.

“The spread of drug-resistant germs such as MRSA is a major public health concern”, Dr Tofail Syed, project co-ordinator explained.

“A significant element of the MRSA problem arises from the use of conventional textiles such as hospital gowns, curtains, beddings and pillow covers. As a result, hospital sterility has been a major concern in countries such as Ireland, Germany and Belgium. We intend to develop nanotechnology-derived textiles that will help hospitals in their fight against MRSA.”

In the EU alone, in excess of three million people develop an infection arising from hospital-based infections, resulting in approximately 50,000 deaths per annum. One in 10 patients entering a European hospital will develop an infection caused by drug-resistant microbes such as the hospital super bug, MRSA.

Dr Syed explained, “In southern and western Europe, over 40pc of hospitals have significant problems with the MRSA super bug. We are confident of redressing this statistic through our research and development of MRSA-resistant textiles.”

MRSA-resistant textiles is one of the four major health issues that the UL-led consortium will address in the three-year research programme funded by the European Commission under its Framework Programme 7 (Nanotechnology, Materials and Production).

The other health issues include plaque-resistant cardio-vascular stents, urinary stents with less stone formation and bone implants that will heal more rapidly than their conventional equivalents.

 “The project addresses four major areas of European healthcare that affect the quality of life of European citizens and cost European states considerable amounts of money,” explained Liam Brown, UL director of research support.

“In particular, cardiovascular disease is the cause of half of deaths in Europe, accounting for in excess of two million deaths per year. Arterial thrombosis contributes significantly, and the project will directly address this issue”.

Brown, who is also an Enterprise Ireland national delegate on Framework Programme 7, added that bone diseases remained a major health concern for Europe due to the continent’s ageing population.

“Half of all chronic conditions of those aged 65 and over are caused by osteoarthritis, and among the younger population, the occurrence of bone injuries is increasing because of more leisure activity and accidents. A direct output of the project will be the stimulating of bone growth by 30pc.”

Dr Edmond Magner, director of the UL-based Materials and Surface Science Institute (MSSI) pointed out that the research programme placed Ireland at the forefront of European activity in developing nanotechnology-based solutions to healthcare related problems.

“The awarding of the €5m contract to UL is a testament to Ireland’s role as a leading R&D centre for the worldwide biomedical sector”, he commented.

Dr Imelda Lambkin, Enterprise Ireland National Director FP7 Ireland said the contract would result in significant health benefits for patients across Europe.

“The EU’s Framework Programme 7, the largest civil research programme with in excess of €50bn from 2007-2013, is a major opportunity for UL and the other universities, companies and research actors to further their research agendas on an international stage.”

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years