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Zinc differently about antimicrobial properties

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Each year in the European Union (EU), Norway and Iceland, 3.8million people get an infection in healthcare environments, according to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC). 

Its also estimated that, every year, 90,000 people die from avoidable infections gained in these settings. Here, Michaël van der Jagt, CEO at antimicrobial material specialist, Parx Materials, explains how zinc-based additives can reduce the risk of infections in hospitals.

 

The same report by the ECDC found at least 20 per cent of healthcare-associated infections could be avoided through better infection prevention and control. To this end, antimicrobial solutions for medical devices — including on catheters, touch-screen medical electronics and wound dressings — have proven highly effective in reducing patient infections.

Made from polymers, antimicrobial materials often use biocides, including silver or copper, to destroy microorganisms. It has long been known that silver ions, which flow from nanoparticles when oxidised, are deadly to bacteria. Silver nanoparticles are used just about everywhere — including medical, cosmetics and food applications.

The use of silver in medicine dates back thousands of years. And while it is highly effective, its tendency to turn bacteria into deadly zombies has only been recognised more recently.

Shortcomings of silver

The discovery was made after a group of scientists killed a sample of Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacterium with a solution of silver nitrate. The dead bacteria were separated from the silver solution and exposed to living bacteria under a microscope. When exposed to the dead bacteria, 99.99 per cent of the living bacteria died. Hence the so-called zombie massacre.

This problem, combined with the growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria means, there’s room for improvement in how antimicrobial materials perform. This includes to the pressing issue of curbing the spread of COVID-19, of which spread of infection poses the greatest challenge in a generation for hospitals. There is also the widely-publicised threat of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, which continues to create difficult-to-treat infections in humans.

So, given that silver ion technologies have been around for centuries, and while effective are incredibly flawed, what can be done? The answer lies in the human skin’s natural immune system.

Under the skin

Zinc is an indispensable element in human skin, playing a vital role in boosting the immune response while also controlling inflammation. Based on this principle, scientists have developed a new antibacterial additive that mixes this zinc with a polymer and, importantly, is biocide-free. Unlike traditional antimicrobial options, this method does not rely on harmful metal ions. Instead, a trace element of zinc is used as a mechanism to allow the material to behave like human skin, preventing bacteria from settling on the surface and causing a zombie outbreak.

The additive, Saniconcentrate™, meets the ISO 10993 and Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 standards for technology in medical devices and is shown to reduce bacteria on surfaces by 99.9 per cent or more.

Recently, a study was performed by the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands to assess the antibacterial properties of a polypropylene mesh, produced with Saniconcentrate™, when used in a heavily-contaminated environment.

The mesh was used to treat a hernia, where part of the intestine bulges through a weak area in the abdominal muscles. Repair involves re-positioning the intestine into the body cavity, a procedure which can result in mesh infection and happens to be one of the most severe and disastrous complications in hernia repair. The Saniconcentrate™ mesh was compared to regular polypropylene mesh, and significantly outperformed the latter’s antibacterial performance.

Zinc differently

Saniconcentrate™ can be homogenously incorporated into plastics to create an immune system inherent to the material. What’s more, it is shown in tests to reduce the COVID-19 virus on surfaces by up to 99 per cent in 24 hours. This is achieved without leaching, harmful side effects or biocides like silver or copper.

The antibacterial material offers a breakthrough option for applications like touch surfaces in public areas, food contact applications and — of course — healthcare environments. Hopefully, it can also make alarming statistics, like the ECDC’s figure of 3.8 million, a thing of the past.

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