Copper-infused hospital clothing could reduce risk of infection outbreaks, research finds

Friday, March 09, 2018 by

It is likely that you come across many different sources of bacteria as you go about your life every single day. Fortunately, your immune system is working hard in the background to prevent you from catching most diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals face the exact same problems that you do in this regard, only they are exposed to even more bacteria sources than you.

As a possible solution, a team of researchers have devised a method of coating hospital clothing with a layer of material that possesses antibacterial properties, which can offer further protection. A report on the method states that it could be a practical solution to the problem of infection outbreaks at hospitals all over the world.

The special coating that can be applied to hospital clothing was developed by material scientists working at the University of Manchester, in collaboration with universities in China, who aimed to create a “durable and washable, concrete-like” composite material that can be applied to normal uniforms. The composite material is made from antibacterial copper nanoparticles, which is where the antibacterial properties come from. The researchers managed to make them work with cotton and polyester, a feat that used to be considered near impossible in the past.

Now that the method is out, exactly how effective is it? It’s extremely effective, said the researchers, and can be improved even further by reducing the costs and making the process behind its application even simpler.

Certain precious metals, like gold and silver, are known to possess excellent antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. The problem with trying to use them with textile applications is the fact that they have prohibitively expensive costs. As an alternative, the researchers focused on copper, which is known to contain similar antibacterial properties as gold and silver, but is a lot cheaper.

The idea of binding copper nanoparticles onto pieces of clothing isn’t exactly new. However, the process required to make it happen had certain limitations in the past. With their latest work, the researchers have shown that it’s possible to successfully bind the material onto cotton and polyester through a method called “Polymer Surface Grafting.” This method creates a strong chemical bond that tethers the copper nanoparticles to the textile materials.

According to Xuqing Liu, a doctor from the School of Materials and the lead author of the study, their findings confirm that their method is a workable one. “These results are very positive and some companies are already showing interest in developing this technology,” he said. “We hope we can commercialize the advanced technology within a couple of years. We have now started to work on reducing cost and making the process even simpler.”

The main advantages of the method provided by the researchers are durability and excellent antibacterial properties. In their tests, they used a polymer brush technique to tether tiny copper nanoparticles onto cotton and polyester fabrics. Even after 30 washes, the researchers said that the fabrics showed excellent antibacterial resistance. Compared with traditional methods of copper coating, the method used by the researchers is far more effective. (Related: Study: Manuka honey kills more bacteria than all available antibiotics.)

It’s unclear how exactly the team of researchers plan to improve their current methods and processes, but if they can do so, that should be enough to convince testing of their methods elsewhere for potential mainstream use.

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