Doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals could soon be wearing uniforms brushed with tiny copper nanoparticles to reduce the spread of bacterial infections and viruses at hospitals, a study has found. Researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK have created a ‘durable and washable, concrete-like’ composite material made from antibacterial copper nanoparticles.
For the study, published in the Journal of Nanomaterials, the team also developed a way of binding the composite to wearable materials such as cotton and polyester, which has proved a stumbling block for scientists in the past.
Bacterial infection is a major issue in hospitals across the UK and has been rising due to its spread on surfaces and clothing, the researchers said.
Precious metals, such as gold and silver, have excellent antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, but their commercial use in textiles is prohibitive due to extremely high costs. This made copper to be the best choice for researchers as it has very similar antibacterial properties to gold and silver but is much cheaper. “Now that our composite materials present excellent antibacterial properties and durability, it has huge potential for modern medical and healthcare applications,” said Xuqing Liu from the University of Manchester.
The researchers tested their copper nanoparticles on cotton as it is used more widely than any other natural fibre and polyester as it is a typical polymeric, manmade material. Each material was brushed with the tiny copper nanoparticles which measure between 1-100 nanometres (nm). Cotton and polyester coated-copper fabrics showed excellent antibacterial resistance against Staphylococcus aureus (S aureus) and Escherichia coli (E coli), even after being washed 30 times.
“These results are very positive and some companies are already showing interest in developing this technology,” Liu said. “We hope we can commercialise the advanced technology within a couple of years. We have now started to work on reducing cost and making the process even simpler,” Liu added.