Irish-based scientists make superbug breakthrough

Team’s ‘game changing’ discovery could stem the spread of MRSA and E coli

 Prof Suresh Pillai with John Browne, CEO of Kastus Technologies Ltd,  at IT Sligo. Photograph: PA/PA Wire

Prof Suresh Pillai with John Browne, CEO of Kastus Technologies Ltd, at IT Sligo. Photograph: PA/PA Wire

 

A new discovery by scientists in Ireland could stem the spread of deadly superbugs that are predicted to kill millions of people worldwide over the coming decades.

A team has found an agent that can be baked into everyday items like smartphones and door handles to combat the likes of MRSA and E coli.

The nanotechnology has a 99.9 per cent kill rate of potentially lethal and drug-resistant bacteria, the scientists said.

Lead scientist Prof Suresh C Pillai, of Institute of Technology, Sligo’s Nanotechnology Research Group, said the discovery is the culmination of 12-years’ work.

“This is a game changer,” he said.

“It’s absolutely wonderful to finally be at this stage. This breakthrough will change the whole fight against superbugs. It can effectively control the spread of bacteria.”

The findings were published on Thursday in the international journal Scientific Reports.

Last week the chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne warned superbugs could become deadlier than cancer and are on course to kill 10 million people globally by 2050.

Speaking at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, he warned drug-resistant bugs could escalate into a global crisis costing trillions.

Scientists have been in a race to find a way of preventing the spread of the bacteria that causes the superbugs.

The new discovery works by building or baking a water-based antimicrobial solution that kills micro-organisms or inhibits their growth into everyday products as they are being manufactured.

These products could include anything made from glass, metallics and ceramics, including computer or tablet screens, smartphones, ATMs, door handles, TVs, handrails, lifts, urinals, toilet seats, fridges, microwaves and ceramic floor or wall tiles.

Hospitals

Prof Pillai says the innovation will be of particular use in hospitals and medical facilities, which are losing the battle against the spread of the killer superbugs.

“Every single person has a sea of bacteria on their hands,” he said.

“The mobile phone is the most contaminated personal item that we can have. Bacteria grows on the phone and can live there for up to five months.

“As it is contaminated with proteins from saliva and from the hand, it’s fertile land for bacteria and has been shown to carry 30 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.”

The research has been funded for the past eight years by John Browne, founder of Kastus Technologies, who will now work to bring the product to a global market.

The team says the nanotechnology is non-toxic and has no harmful by-products.

They are already working on how to adapt it for use in plastics and paint, allowing even wider use.

PA