Self-sanitising surface coatings for tightened infection control – Wits researcher

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South African Michael Lucas, a Wits doctoral student, has developed a futuristic Antimicrobial Coating Technology, which strengthens infection control measures in medical facilities, food processing plants and public transport environments, amongst others. His innovation will help to protect people against nosocomial infections, which are often acquired during hospital stays.

The engineering postgraduate recently took top honours at the International Conference on Prevention and Infection Control in Switzerland for this high-tech healthcare solution as he received the prestigious Prix Hubert Tuor Innovation Award.

Infection control is an ongoing challenge, particularly in hospitals, he said. “Surface contamination and subsequent microbial transmission are known contributors to this. My design for a self-sanitising surface coating serves to address this growing problem and the results are very promising.”

Now in its fifth year of development, these antimicrobial coatings can be applied to high contact surfaces where there is a risk of contamination.

The new tech was validated through extensive laboratory tests as well as preliminary pilot studies. This testing included the use of coated security access cards and a custom coated smartphone cover that were exposed to various healthcare associated environments in the University of the Witwatersrand’s Medical School and Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital.

These tests were conducted under laboratory conditions against a variety of dangerous pathogens that are found in hospital high contact surfaces including a multi-drug resistant Staph strain. As a result, the potential of these coatings for the mitigation of surface contact transmission of infections was confirmed. 

The distinguishing features of Lucas’ research include the novelty of multi-step and multi-process additive manufacturing through the use of cold spray and polymer 3D printing. 

The most promising particle-embedded cold spray polymer metallised coatings were found to be effective self­-sanitising surface coatings. Under simulated touch-contact conditions copper coatings on various polymer substrates, for example, repeatedly achieved complete microbial elimination within only a 15-minute contact period.

The uniqueness of his innovative way of depositing the coatings is a competitive advantage that Wits University is protecting through a patent.

The development of the technology is ongoing, having started during Lucas’ undergraduate research project and continuing into his doctoral studies. 

Together with the now late Professor lonel Botef from the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering, Lucas has worked on further developments with Professor Sandy van Vuuren in the Wits Pharmacy and Pharmacology department. Financial assistance has been provided by the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials (CoE-SM) and SITA Information Networking Computing UK.

“The late Professor Botef’s belief in me and my research has instilled the confidence to embrace the challenge to solve this real-life problem,” added Lucas.

Michael graduated with a Bachelor of Science of Engineering (Mechanical Engineering) from Wits in 2016. Before graduating, he was asked to present his undergrad research into biomaterials via cold spray and 3D printed polymers at the 2015 Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering (MIA) annual valediction. He was subsequently awarded the best presentation in the Mechanical Engineering programme by the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineers (SAIMechE).

Due to the novelty and sophistication of the development, Michael’s Masters in Engineering was upgraded to a PhD research study under the title: Antimicrobial surface coatings via cold spray and 3D printing technologies, which he is currently completing at the University.

Tumi Ngqondo, Innovation Support Manager at Wits Commercial Enterprise, which assists Wits’ innovators with fundraising, business case development and spinning out companies, says: “We are delighted for Michael and look forward to supporting him as he takes the next steps to finalise development and commercialise the technology.”

“These next steps include verifying the safety of the coatings for the intended application and to assess the coatings’ efficacy in real world hospital high contact surface environments. This is the start of taking the technology to market,” he concluded with a resolute focus to turn his technology into a viable start up business.

Watch the interview with Michael Lucas:

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