Every year, over four million patients acquire an infection associated with a hospital stay, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organisation. The data indicate that the impact of these infections has led to direct or indirect mortality of 137,000 patients and a cost of seven billion euros annually.
Antimicrobial properties to combat the high mortality in the population caused by microbial infections
Given this situation, the pilot project PROTECT coordinated by the UPC’s Molecular and Industrial Biotechnology Group (GBMI) was established through the research programme Horizon 2020 (H2020) funded by the European Union. The project focused on implementing the ultrasound technique to manufacture nanoparticle coatings for surfaces that have a high probability of spreading microbial infections, such as healthcare textiles and furniture in public areas, medical devices and membranes for water treatment.
From efficiency demonstrated in the laboratory to industrial application
The efficiency of this technology for coating surfaces with antimicrobial nanoparticles was demonstrated previously in the SONO and NOVO European projects, developed by the same consortium. The technique developed in these studies consisted of applying ultrasound for the synthesis and deposition of antimicrobial nanoparticles on surfaces that have to be in direct contact with humans in the hospital environment.
In the framework of PROTECT, technological processes were developed and optimised for producing antimicrobial nanoparticles as upholstery coatings for furniture in public areas, healthcare textiles, medical devices and water treatment membranes at pre-commercial scale. For this purpose, PROTECT constructed a versatile platform with three manufacturing lines, which offered specific solutions for manufacturers and for final users. From the project, more uniform coatings that are resistant to high temperatures were obtained, using small quantities of antimicrobial raw material, compared with current technologies. In addition, more efficient antimicrobial nanoparticles were produced than in conventional antibiotics. Both nanoparticles and the coated materials were safe for humans and had little probability of developing antimicrobial resistance. The project also enabled the evolution of quality control techniques for materials “in situ” to be able to monitor at any time the amount of material deposited in the coatings, its durability and repeatability in an automated way. The environmental and economic parameters that were studied throughout the project show that the technologies and the products that were developed were more sustainable and less expensive than those that exist currently.
Consortium and budget
PROTECT was the only initiative led in Spain of the five selected in the call for applications. The project lasted four years (2017–2021) and received funding of 7.5 million euros. A total of 22 members took part from eight European countries, including the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the Textile Industry Research Association (AITEX) as the entities that participated in the Spanish state. In total, 13 of the companies that formed part of the project are SMEs and two are multinationals. These companies were responsible for developing the new processes and marketing the antimicrobial products. The company Maroco (Portugal) produced antimicrobial textiles for public spaces, while the company Degania (Israel), a world leader in the manufacture of catheters, manufactured these devices with bacterial resistance. The Italian Fonte Nuova was responsible for developing antimicrobial water filters and the Italian Klopman was responsible for obtaining healthcare textiles that reduce the risk of spread of hospital infections. In addition to manufacturing these products, the same companies will market them. The remaining companies were responsible for constructing the ultrasound devices and for the automation and quality control of the manufacturing processes. Nine universities and research centres in France, Germany, Russia, Ireland, Israel and Spain, will develop and optimise the production of the new antimicrobial nanoparticles.
Example of the three pilot lines installed in the companies Klopman (Italy), Maroco (Portugal) and Degania (Israel).