Copper-Coated Uniforms Could Reduce Infection

By Gina Wynn

According to a recent study, hospitals could soon reduce the number of infection outbreaks among patients by switching to copper-coated uniforms.

Bacterial infection is a major issue in hospitals around the world, and because infections from organisms like Escherichia coli  and Staphylococcus aureus are easily spread via surfaces and clothing, University of Manchester researchers are concerned the number of outbreaks could increase. Statistics from the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) show more than 5,500 patient deaths from E. coli  infections alone in 2015. High infection rates also have financial implications: the NHS projected these infections could cost £2.3 billion ($2.93 billion) by 2018.

Binding Breakthrough

Material scientists at the University of Manchester, in collaboration with universities in China, have reportedly developed and tested a “durable and washable, concrete-like” composite material made from antibacterial copper nanoparticles. They also discovered how to bind the composite to wearable materials like cotton and polyester, which are commonly used for hospital attire. Before this discovery, scientists struggled with various techniques for binding copper to textile materials.

To bond the copper to the textiles, the research team used a process called polymer surface grafting. This method employs a polymer brush to affix copper nanoparticles to the cotton and polyester to create a strong chemical bond. According to the team, the bond contributes to the fabric’s durability and its ability to withstand laundering. Even after 30 washes, the team’s copper-coated textiles maintained their antibacterial resistance.

Real-World Potential

Because copper-coated uniforms could potentially save lives and money, the research team believes that a sizable market exists for their product. The study’s lead author, Xuqing Liu, PhD, hopes to see it commercialized in a couple of years. He and his colleagues are working to simplify the coating process and make it more cost effective.

Cost also played a role in the team’s choice of copper as a coating material. As precious metals, gold, silver, and copper all have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, because of its much lower cost, copper was the obvious choice of the three for widespread use.

So far the results of the study have been positive, according to Dr. Liu, and companies are already showing interest in developing the polymer surface grafting technology. He believes it shows significant promise for modern medical and healthcare applications.