International. A new copper coating that kills bacteria faster and in greater quantities than current formulations could soon be available for hospitals and other high-traffic facilities.
A team of UBC researchers led by Amanda Clifford, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Engineering, has designed a nanocopper coating that includes nanoscale features that kill bacteria and zinc.
Nanoscale features are small bumps that can kill bacteria by breaking down their cell wall. Zinc, which is also antibacterial, selectively oxidizes in the presence of copper and helps kill bacteria more quickly compared to pure copper alone.
"Using our coating could significantly reduce the incidence of getting bacterial infections from high-touch surfaces in healthcare facilities, such as doorknobs and elevator buttons, as it kills bacteria using multiple approaches," professor Clifford said.
"Since it contains less copper than other existing coatings or entire pieces of copper, it would also be cheaper to manufacture," he says.
The team found that the material took just an hour to kill 99.7% of Staphylococcus aureus, a gram-positive pathogen commonly responsible for hospital-acquired infections, compared to two hours for pure copper.
"Not only does this coating eliminate pathogens faster than pure copper, but it helps ensure antibiotics remain effective," Clifford said.
"By using this new formulation, we are killing pathogens before patients become infected and need to use antibiotics against them, which slows the rise of antibiotic resistance," he said.
The professor added: "Currently, this is aimed at hospitals and healthcare settings because these places are where antibiotic-resistant pathogens, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), are a problem. We also don't want to be in a place where we can't use antibiotics."
The team plans to further evaluate the material against other pathogens, such as viruses, in hopes of eventually commercializing their work.
The work is funded in partnership with Teck Resources Limited, which installed copper surfaces on high-touch surfaces in UBC's faculty of applied science buildings through its Copper & Health program.
James Olson, dean of the School of Applied Sciences, said: "Life-saving inventions of this nature are only possible because this great research is funded by industry partners like Teck."
Teck President and CEO Don Lindsay said, "Installing antimicrobial copper on high-touch surfaces is already a proven way to improve safety, and Teck is proud to partner with and support UBC-led research that has the potential to make communities even safer."