Research at the Royal will explore new infection tackling tech

An innovative study has been launched at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital to explore how a new antimicrobial coating can protect the NHS by reducing healthcare associated infections (HAIs).  

HAIs are a risk to patients, visitors and staff, and cover a range of different infections including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile). HAIs result in significant costs to the NHS and increased illness and time in hospital for patients.  

An estimated 3.5% of those that acquire a HAI die from the infection, according to research published by the British Medical Journal. Infection prevention and control is vital to limiting spread of HAIs and the related problem of antimicrobial resistance. 

The bacteria, fungi and viruses (microbes) that cause these infections can be transmitted by contact with a contaminated surface. Manual cleaning of surfaces is performed regularly but between cleaning contamination can occur. In addition, the use of environmentally damaging chemicals and how these can be safely reduced is an important consideration for the NHS. 

To lower the risk of HAI by touching contaminated surfaces, a new type of antimicrobial film coating has been developed by the expert vacuum coating solutions specialist Gencoa. The Merseyside-based manufacturer’s coating can be used on a wide variety of healthcare surfaces with the aim of quickly eliminating environmental contamination between cleaning.  

To date, Gencoa’s film technology has been used on surfaces in busy public areas, for example on train station touchscreens during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gencoa is now looking to explore applications in healthcare settings.  

The initial stage of assessing the product’s viability for hospitals was undertaken in partnership with the Infection Innovation Consortium (iiCON). Established in 2020, iiCON is a world leading centre for infection innovation and R&D based at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which works in partnership with Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LUHFT). 

As part of iiCON’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) SME support programme, a fully funded study was conducted to verify the potential effectiveness of Gencoa’s antimicrobial coating. The research particularly focused on pathogens for which new antibiotic treatments are required.  

The results proved that this solution could in principle be applied to a hospital setting and the data was a key part of Gencoa receiving additional funding for a larger study alongside LUHFT, which runs the Royal Liverpool University Hospital.  

Innovate UK awarded a £584,066 funding grant as part of its BioMedical Catalyst Award to a partnership between Gencoa, LSTM and LUHFT to optimise their coating for use in healthcare environments and look for real world data on efficacy and safety in a clinical environment.   

Antimicrobial coatings will be installed within clinical environments including touchscreens and door handles in the new state of the art Royal Liverpool University Hospital, which was opened in October 2022.   

To create the coatings, the Midlands based Diamond Coatings Ltd. will transfer the new technology to production and develop a high-volume roll-to-roll capability for coating adhesive pads in order to protect screens and other surfaces. 

The coatings will be in place for up to 12 months and will be assessed for how they perform under standard NHS Infection Prevention and Control guidance for cleaning. Systematic environmental testing will be performed of coated and uncoated surfaces to look for differences in contamination. Parallel to this, testing will be conducted in a mock ward environment at LSTM to investigate whether changes to clinical cleaning pathways could be safely considered. 

Dermot Monaghan, Managing Director of Gencoa Ltd, said: “The project utilises a ‘solid state’ coating applied to a surface by vacuum deposition in order to reduce contagion by rapidly killing microbes present. The coating is highly robust and provides a continuous self-sanitising effect for touch screens and other parts in highly trafficked areas.  

“The academic and grant support combined with the material technology capabilities of industrial partners has been vital to advancing Gencoa’s innovation into the healthcare sector.” 

Dr Adam Roberts of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine led the research at iiCON, he said: “The ERDF funded study that we conducted within iiCON meant that Gencoa could access our advanced research facilities and the skills of a world-leading team that specialises in infectious diseases in order to prove the antibacterial performance of its new film coating. This was significant, as it helped achieve further funding from Innovate UK and a partnership with LUFHT which will move the research onto the next stage and take the results from our laboratoriesinto the real world. 

“This project has shown that creating links between healthcare, academia and SMEs is a great way to rapidly progress new technologies and it’s a route that we hope to adopt with other businesses to simultaneously help them into the healthcare market while getting much-needed innovations into the NHS as quickly as possible.”  

Dr Stacy Todd, Consultant in Infectious Diseases at Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is the NHS research lead for the project. She said “This is a great example of NHS, University and Industry partners working together to develop products which have the real potential for patient benefit. The twin problems of healthcare associated infections and antimicrobial resistance means that we need to think broadly about what interventions can benefit patients, visitors and staff in making healthcare safer. By doing this we can keep offering patients cutting edge treatments, including those for cancer therapy and surgery.” 

Professor Terry Jones, Director for Research and Innovation at Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Finding new ways to combat HAIs and to reduce the threat from antibacterial resistant microbes is of vital importance. This multi-disciplinary, multi-partner study is also testament to the thriving collaborative approach to research and innovation in Liverpool City Region, bringing together clinical, industrial and academic experts. Undertaking this study in such a new healthcare facility provides a rare opportunity to analyse innovative technology in a real-world, state-of-the-art environment.” 

Jason Eite, Managing Director of Diamond Coatings Ltd., said: “We look forward to applying our vacuum coating technology and roll coating capability to help minimise the risks posed by HAIs. Combining our manufacturing expertise with the medical and microbiological expertise of the rest of the team has proven to be a highly productive and effective method of creating an innovative new solution for the healthcare sector.”