Antimicrobial Polymers

Lab coats in hospitals can be breeding grounds for dangerous microorganisms
Lab coats in hospitals can be breeding grounds for dangerous microorganisms.

Scientists in the U.S. have come up with novel antimicrobial polymers that can make clothing permanently germ-free, reports the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The polymers can be made into a spray-on solution that can be applied to existing clothes, including socks, so that they won’t be smelly after wear.

The new polymers can be applied to natural and synthetic materials, including plastics, to provide everlasting, non-leaching antimicrobial surfaces on top of the materials. The treatment withstands multiple hot-water laundry cycles.

Jason Locklin‘s team at University of Georgia showed in its research paper that the polymer treatment kills a wide range of dangerous microorganisms, including Staphylococcus aureus, which cause a range of illnesses; and Escherichia coli, of which some strains can cause food poisoning.

According to the research paper by Locklin and colleagues, the polymer treatment was developed by making antimicrobial copolymers from a commercially available polymer. The antimicrobial polymers were then attached to surfaces of synthetic polymers, cotton, and other materials using flashes of light. The result was a covalently cross-linked polymeric coating that gave a permanent, non-leaching antimicrobial surface.

The BBC story notes that the most important and immediate application for these polymers is in the medical field. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that approximately one in every 20 hospitalized patients contracts a healthcare-associated infection.

The BBC quotes Locklin:

‘The spread of pathogens on textiles and plastics is a growing concern, especially in healthcare facilities and hotels, which are ideal environments for the proliferation and spread of very harmful micro-organisms,’ said Dr Locklin.

People are also trying to get rid of dangerous microbes at home, especially when it comes to food packaging, plastic furniture and their children’s bath toys.

There are other anti-bacterial products, but some of them suffer from high cost or ineffectiveness. The researchers think their novel antimicrobial polymers will be an easy, cheap, and scalable chemistry to guard against pathogens.

Source: “New solution can help ‘permanently get rid of germs,’BBC News, 07/06/11
Source: “New UGA technology makes textiles permanently germ-free; targets healthcare-associated infections,” UGA News Service, 07/05/11
Image by Plutor (Logan Ingalls), used under its Creative Commons license.

Rajendrani "Raj" Mukhopadhyay is a science writer and editor who contributes news stories and feature articles on scientific advances to a variety of magazines. Raj holds Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University.