Irish experts key to battling bacteria

Irish researchers are playing a key role in European work to limit the spread of deadly drug-resistant bacterias in hospitals.

Colum Dunne: 'New approaches are needed to protect hospital patients and healthcare staff.'

The four-year project is probing the potential of coatings that might not just repel but also eliminate micro- organisms that come into contact with everyday hospital textiles such as bedsheets and gowns. These anti-microbial coatings could also be used on solid surfaces such as walls, floors, beds, and tables.

The spread of superbugs such as MRSA, e.coli, and clostridium difficile are a big problem in the healthcare sector. Each year, some 4m people in the EU are affected by healthcare-associated infections, including multi-drug-resistant bacteria.

Not all are potentially fatal, but they can disrupt delivery of services and complicate and lengthen treatment of hospital patients.

Colum Dunne, of University of Limerick’s graduate entry medical school, is a member of the management group of an EU consortium set up late last year to carry out studies of the potential of anti-microbial coatings.

“New approaches are needed to protect hospital patients and healthcare staff,” said Prof Dunne. “These are surfaces fortified with active ingredients that are responsible for the reduction and even elimination of micro-organisms that come into contact with them.”

As well as universities and other research institutions, industry partners are involved in the Anti-Microbial Coating Innovations network across 26 countries. Other Irish representatives include Dublin Institute of Technology and Colourtrend General Paints.

Prof Dunne said that the application of coatings to existing hospital infrastructure, as well as their use in the manufacture of disposable items like bedsheets and other textiles, are possible.

Different groups within the consortium are carrying out research in five areas: Design and manufacture of antimicrobial materials; testing their performance; risk assessment; management; and cleaning.

“While some materials, such as copper and silver, have recognised antimicrobial properties, there are promising new technologies for use in coatings,” said Prof Dunne. “We will evaluate the impact of introducing these in healthcare facilities, their potential for impact on the spread of infection, practical aspects of their regulation and use, and possible development of resistance.”

His past research includes reports on the emergence of multi-drug-resistant bacteria in Irish hospitals, and on the management of outbreaks by infection prevention and control teams.

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