A new project developed by Lancaster University’s Health Innovation Campus and Material Science Institute in the United Kingdom will see pioneering technology used to decontaminate vital medical equipment exposed to the Covid-19 virus, via a partnership with University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT).

Hospitals are seen as high-risk areas for transmission of the virus, with recent evidence suggesting SARS-CoV-2 could remain on surfaces for up to nine days – and potentially for weeks on items which include cavities and recesses, such as personal protective equipment (PPE). Often items are cleaned with disinfectants but this is time consuming and inappropriate, and potentially damaging for some equipment.

The new project will explore how cold atmospheric plasma (CAP) jets can be used to clean apparatus via electrically excited gases which can be used safely in air. Equipment could include diaphragms of stethoscopes and pulse-oximeters, which are sensitive to harsh chemicals or abrasive materials. It is believed the plasma cleaning process will be able to reduce the amount of cleaning time required, eliminate risk of chemical exposure and decrease the potential for antimicrobial resistance – a serious global threat.

Professor Rob Short, director of the Material Science Institute, said: “The current Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted multi-layered issues within hospital and public environments relating to the transmission of viruses. Primary transmission routes include infectious droplets through the air and person-to-person contact, but contact with contaminated surfaces potentially provides another route. The quantity of virus on a surface, its stability, its resistance against biocidal agents and the minimal infective dose are key to transmission.

“Disinfection of common touch surfaces – doors, handles, railings, furnishings – or objects that contact many people like stethoscopes, medical equipment and PPE would reduce possible secondary routes of infection. The World Health Organisation recommends stringent environmental cleaning and disinfection guidelines. However, adherence is challenging – especially with pandemic situations and asymptomatic carriers.

“We aim to demonstrate that CAP plasma jets can be used to decontaminate surfaces which have been soiled by viruses, including real-world materials like PPE, and develop a scalability and deployment plan for scale-up of this technology for rapid deployment into clinical environments.”

The project has now received start-up funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Impact Acceleration Account 2020-2021, which supports early-stage projects that have the capacity to put scientific research outputs into commercial usage.

The Health Innovation Campus has been integral to the project by bringing in the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) as partners to ensure it is an appropriate solution and meets clinical rigour and standards. It will also help deliver the solution to other Trusts and clinical settings.

Dr Sherry Kothari, director of the Health Innovation Campus, added: “The HIC’s mission is to support projects like this, where academic scientific expertise can be used to help solve real-world issues around health.

“The HIC is also here to ensure that once these solutions have been developed, they can be scaled up and delivered in settings around the country – and the world – to ensure that everyone can benefit from them.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has seen scientists from across the globe looking at how they can use their knowledge and expertise to help kill the virus – and we know from our NHS partners that this particular issue is one which is causing the sector serious concern.

“We’re delighted to be supporting this project and hope it can have a real impact in halting the spread of Covid-19 in our communities.”

For more information on the project, contact [email protected].