As the Covid-19 pandemic has progressed there has been a growing awareness of the role surfaces play in the transmission of infection – from people washing their groceries to news stories that the virus has re-entered New Zealand through contaminated freight.
This is not a new phenomenon and we have known for a long time that surfaces have been playing a key role in hospital acquired infections. These infections, cost the NHS in the region of £1 billion per year.
The medical literature describes how patients can fall ill in hospital with the same pathogens which infected the previous occupant of their bed. However it is very difficult to determine where these contaminations come from. We may think of objects such as toilets as ‘dirty’, yet in reality, pathogens can be spread over many surfaces and can survive for extended periods of time. The more people passing through an area, potentially the more opportunities there are for contamination. This is especially true when people are in enclosed spaces, such as public transport.
To combat this issue we have developed a novel surface technology which is active against bacteria, fungi and viruses. The technology christened ‘NitroPep’ is a coating which is laid down onto surfaces such as plastics and metals. It doesn’t change the aesthetics of the surface and is invisible to the naked eye.
We can think of the NitroPep coating as tiny positively charged spikes. When bacteria, fungi or viruses land on the surface, the coating inserts itself into the membrane of the pathogen and pops it, similar to a row of pins popping a balloon. Early laboratory tests suggest that NitroPep is even effective against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and further research is now being carried out to verify this.
The NitroPep technology is extremely durable and can withstand repeated touch and standard cleaning regimes without losing efficacy. Our studies have involved extensive field testing on board ships, trains, in hospitals, Universities, the hospitality industry and a lot of public toilets. Each study has demonstrated the excellent efficacy of the technology with many of the studies lasting over a period of months and years.
The potential for this technology is immense, with applications from public transport in trains including seats, toilets, grab straps and air conditioning to PPE, remote controls, medical equipment and beds in hospitals. As the technology works so rapidly, it can eliminate 100,000 colonies of MRSA in under 5 minutes. It allows us to build a real protection as we have a technology which has the potential to ‘self-clean’ between people touching surfaces.
This has huge potential in many areas and especially in public transport and healthcare. The large numbers of people involved in these settings and the rapid turnover of their presence on surfaces means that it has always been the most complex challenge to prevent the spread of infection. We finally have a technology that will work rapidly enough.
This will allow a step change in public policy to target surface contamination. This is really key in areas such as public transport where mandated actions such as wearing facemasks have occurred recently. The most useful aspect of this technology is that it will work without requiring behavioural changes from the general public. Requiring people to change their behaviour and educating them in what is required is time consuming, costly and doesn’t always work! But if we can install a technology which allows people to behave as normal while offering increased protection from infection, then we will have a much more effective solution.
Find out more information about the NitroPep coating.
Read the briefing note on the public policy implications of NitroPep.