Unsettled by the notable rise in infections acquired during hospital stays worldwide, Witwatersrand mechanical engineering PhD student Michael Lucas invented the award-winning Antimicrobial Coating Technology, a self-sanitising surface coating.
The invention won him an award from the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He was also invited to the recent International Conference on Prevention and Infection Control in Geneva, where he won the Prix Hubert Tuor Innovation Award.
Lucas decided he did not only want to follow in the footsteps of the engineers in his family, he wanted to be a specific kind of engineer. Before going to university, he had wanted to be a biomedical engineer, a discipline that seeks solutions to prominent problems within the healthcare sector.
Now a PhD candidate at Witwatersrand University, Lucas started researching what became his invention when he was studying for a bachelor of science in engineering degree.
During his fourth year, part of the research module required looking into cold spray surface coating. He took this opportunity to explore ways of dealing with issues within the health sector.
With the help of his supervisor, the late professor Ionel Botef, his research began. He first had to identify the problem which he soon found was that infection control was an ongoing challenge in hospitals. Surface contamination and subsequent microbial transmission are known contributors to this.
Using metal-coated plastics made up of antimicrobial properties, including combinations of copper, silver and zinc, Lucas invented self-sanitising surface coatings.
“My design for a self-sanitising surface coating serves to address this growing problem, and the results are very promising.
“These antimicrobial coatings can be applied to high contact surfaces where there is a risk of contamination, including in medical facilities, food processing plants and public transport surfaces.”
After developing the coatings using mechanical engineering techniques, they were tested against a variety of infectious pathogens in a laboratory setting to observe their ability to mitigate transmissions of any surface contact infections.
Lucas said the tests proved the coatings eliminated infections on contact within minutes.
The preliminary pilot studies carried out in the University of Witwatersrand’s Medical School and Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital following this procedure validated the laboratory tests.
The development of the technology was in its fifth year and was still ongoing, Lucas added.
“The next steps include verifying the safety of the coatings for the intended application, and to assess the coatings’ efficacy in real-world hospital high contact surface environments.
“This would be the start of taking the technology to market.
“I have also approached Wits Enterprise, which helps with taking technologies to the stage of commercialisation.”
Innovation support manager at Wits Enterprise Tumi Ngqondo said: “We are delighted for Michael and look forward to supporting him as he takes the next steps towards finalising development and commercialising the technology.”
Lucas said: “This journey started five years ago during an undergraduate project and it’s been a journey that has surprised me at every step of the way with its potential of expansion.
“I am interested in taking it further and I believe it has the potential and I am excited to see the fruit of developments.
“I owe the progress of this journey to my late supervisor, professor Ionel Botef.
“He was the primary instigator of this opportunity and his belief in me and my research has instilled the confidence to embrace the challenge.
“I wish he was here to see how far we have come.”
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