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University Student Develops Self-Sanitizing, Infection Controlling Coating

Michael Lucas, PhD student at Wits University. Photo courtesy of Wits UniversityA student at the University at the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa), also known as Wits University, has developed a self-sanitizing surface coating that helps address the significant and persistent issue of infection control in hospitals, food processing plants, public transportation, and other commercial places. The student in question, PhD candidate Michael Lucas, has spent the past five years developing this antimicrobial coating technology, which Wits University claims is “a novel solution to address the problem of nosocomial infections,” i.e., infections that originated in a hospital.

“Infection control is an ongoing challenge in hospitals [and] surface contamination and subsequent microbial transmission are known contributors to this,” notes Lucas. “My design for a self-sanitizing surface coating serves to address this growing problem, and the results are very promising. These antimicrobial coatings can be applied to high-contact surfaces where there is a risk of contamination, including medical facilities, food processing plants, and public transport surfaces.”

What distinguishes Lucas’s research project from others in the metal coated plastics field is the use of multi-step and multi-process additive manufacturing. Manufacturing techniques like cold spray and polymer 3D printing provide design freedom and versatility that enable manufactured parts to be retrofitted into existing hospital surfaces.

Made from various metals with known antimicrobial properties, including combinations of copper, silver, and zinc, Lucas’s coatings offer an innovative method of depositing the coatings. The method is so innovative, in fact, that Wits University has patented the technology and it earned Lucas the prestigious Prix Hubert Tuor Innovation Award.

Lucas conducted laboratory tests that confirmed the ability of his self-sanitizing, metallized coatings to mitigate the transmission of infections through surface contact. One test involving copper coatings on various polymer substrates under simulated touch-contact conditions had repeatedly achieved complete microbial elimination within a 15-minute contact period.

These results were later validated by preliminary pilot studies within Wits University’s Medical School and the adjacent Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital. “The next steps include verifying the safety of the coatings for the intended application and to assess the coatings’ efficiency in real-world hospital high contact surface environments,” says Lucas.

Lucas adds that “this would be the start to taking the technology to market” as a viable startup business. Development of this technology is currently ongoing and has received financial support from the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials, a consortium of various universities and science councils, and SITA Information Networking Computing UK, a global IT-solutions provider.

Source: Wits University, www.wits.ac.za.