Irish researchers crack formula to make surfaces superbug-proof

21 Apr 2016

Prof Suresh Pillai with John Browne, CEO of Kastus Technologies in the Nanotechnology Research Laboratory at IT Sligo looking at the anti-superbug solution on glass. Image via James Connolly

A team of researchers led by Prof Suresh C. Pillai from IT Sligo has said it has developed a unique formula that could be applied to a whole range of surfaces to prevent the spread of deadly superbugs like MRSA and E. coli.

The fear of an uncontrollable superbug outbreak in hospitals or elsewhere in the wider world has reached fever-pitch in recent months and years, due to the increasing number of bacterial strains resistant to our remaining antibiotic options as we enter what is being called a ‘post-antibiotic future’.

In particular, hospitals are one of the first breeding grounds for potentially deadly bacteria such as the MRSA bug, or E. coli, with expectations that if our current level of protection were to continue, we would see 10m die from infection annually by 2050.

12 years of development

Now, however, a team of scientists, led by Prof Pillai, initially at CREST (Centre for Research in Engineering Surface Technology) in Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and then at IT Sligo’s Nanotechnology Research Group (PEM Centre), has published a paper detailing its new antimicrobial solution.

The team has been working on this new antimicrobial solution for over 12 years now, having used nanotechnology to develop the formula, which can be applied to almost any surface and is capable of passively killing 99.9pc of harmful bacteria it comes into contact with.

Soap in hospital

A doctor using handwash in a hospital. Image via Shutterstock

Can be baked into pretty much everything

Previous attempts to bake antimicrobial surfaces into products have met with limited success, as all these materials were toxic or needed UV light in order to make them work, meaning they were not practical for indoor use and had limited commercial application.

This newer water-based solution can be easily sprayed onto any glass, ceramic or metallic surface during the production process, meaning potential applications on everything from smartphones and ATMs, to toilet seats and door handles.

‘Applications in the real world are endless’

For the last eight years, the team’s research has been funded with help from Kastus Technologies, which will now be bringing the technology to the global market.

Speaking of its potential, Kastus CEO John Browne said: “This is a game changer. The uniqueness of antimicrobial surface treatment means that the applications for it in the real world are endless.

“The multinational glass manufacturers we are in negotiations with to sell the product have been searching for years to come up with such a solution but have failed.”

The team is now doing further research to determine how to adapt the solution for use in plastics and paint, allowing even wider use of the protective material.

MRSA infographic

Infographic via Storylab

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic