FEB 22, 2018 06:40 AM PST

Copper-Coated Uniforms to Reduce Hospital Infection Rates

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

Some metals, such as silver, gold and copper, have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties; they are able to kill or limit the growth of microorganisms without greatly affecting a host. Adhering copper, the cheapest of the three, to clothing has proven challenging in the past. But in 2018, researchers from The University of Manchester and the Northwest Minzu and Southwest University in China have collaborated to create a unique process that effectively coats fabric with copper nanoparticles. These fabrics could be employed as antimicrobial hospital uniforms or other medical-use textiles.

image of nurse in uniform and copper in a dish, credit: COD Newsroom on Flickr, european-coatings.com

“These results are very positive, and some companies are already showing interest in developing this technology. 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,” Lead Author Dr. Xuqing Liu said.

During this study, copper nanoparticles were applied to cotton and polyester through a process called, “Polymer Surface Grafting.” The copper nanoparticles of between 1-100 nanometers were attached to the materials using a polymer brush. A polymer brush is an assembly of macromolecules (molecules containing large amounts of atoms) tethered at one end to a substrate or surface. This method created a strong chemical bond between the copper nanoparticles and the fabrics’ surfaces.

“It was found that copper nanoparticles were uniformly and firmly distributed on the surfaces,” according to the study abstract. The treated materials showed “efficient antibacterial activity” against Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) and Escherichia coli (E. coli). The new composite textiles these material scientists developed are also strong and washable – they still showed the antibacterial resistant activity after 30 wash cycles.

“Now that our composite material presents excellent antibacterial properties and durability, it has huge potential for modern medical and health care applications,” said Liu.

Bacterial infections are a serious health hazard worldwide. They can spread on clothing and surfaces within hospitals, costing tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars annually in the U.S. alone.

Gregory Grass of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has studied dry copper’s ability to kill microbes upon surface contact. While he feels copper surfaces cannot replace other essential hygiene-preservation methods in medical facilities, he thinks they “will certainly decrease the costs associated with hospital-acquired infections and curb human disease, as well as save lives.”

Metals have been used as antimicrobial agents for thousands of years and were replaced by organic antibiotics in the mid‐20th century. In a 2017 paper titled, “Metal‐based antimicrobial strategies,” Raymond Turner of the University of Calgary writes, “While research to date on MBAs ([metal‐based antimicrobials]) has considerable promise, the understanding of the toxicology of these metals on humans, livestock, crops and the microbial‐ecosystem as a whole is lacking.”

"Durable and Washable Antibacterial Copper Nanoparticles Bridged by Surface Grafting Polymer Brushes on Cotton and Polymeric Materials," was published in the Journal of Nanomaterials in 2018.

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech and conservation.
You May Also Like
OCT 14, 2018
Technology
OCT 14, 2018
Computational Technology Uses Genetics To Solve Crime
When detectives tracked down the Golden State Killer, who terrorized the state of California during the 1970s and 1980, they used an online genealogical da...
OCT 23, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 23, 2018
NASA Fixes Hubble's Gyroscope Issue, Tests Planned for Near Future
On October 5th, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope experienced a troublesome gyroscope malfunction. Onboard software attempted to rectify the issue by kic...
NOV 10, 2018
Technology
NOV 10, 2018
Creating Effective Wind Turbine Technologies
A rise in energy demands prompted scientists at Penn State Behrend and the University of Tabriz, Iran to create an algorithm for designing more efficient w...
NOV 18, 2018
Space & Astronomy
NOV 18, 2018
International Space Station Receives Fresh Supplies From Back-to-Back Rocket Launches
Both the United States and Russian space agencies share the burden of sending fresh food, fuel, and supplies to the International Space Station every few m...
NOV 20, 2018
Space & Astronomy
NOV 20, 2018
NASA Will Live-Stream the Martian InSight Landing on Monday
If you’ve been paying any attention to NASA lately, then you’ve undoubtedly heard a lot about the space agency’s InSight mission, which i...
DEC 09, 2018
Technology
DEC 09, 2018
Simplifying Film Animation via Drones
The film industry is believed by many computer scientists to be soon revolutionized by the use of drones especially in their ability to replace dozens of c...
Loading Comments...