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Jeremy Swan, Public Affairs Manager, University of Birmingham

21 September 2020, 8:05 UTC Share

Preventing the spread of infection through contaminated surfaces

What made you want to work in higher education?

For me, it was the great experience I had as a student in Liverpool and the recognition that going to university can have a transformative effect on real people’s lives. It wasn’t just the lectures, but the whole experience of taking responsibility and learning to find your way in the world. What I have come to appreciate even more since then is the amazing research that is carried out, and just how important our universities are to the UK’s R&D landscape.

Over the last few months, I have helped support various Covid-related research initiatives across the University of Birmingham. One particularly exciting project, led by Dr Felicity de Cogan and Dr Anna Peacock, has developed a non-toxic coating called NitroPep that can be applied to almost any surface and kills pathogens within minutes.

We have known for years that contaminated surfaces help spread infections, but keeping things clean isn’t always easy. Think about the grab rails on buses, the buttons on commuter trains or door handles in high-footfall areas. Even in controlled environments it can be hard to stop the spread of infection. In fact, hospital-acquired infections are estimated to cost the NHS around Ł1 billion each year. At the same time, the rise in antimicrobial resistance means that we need to find new ways of fighting infection – and fast.

To meet these challenges, NitroPep was developed as a surface coating that would be effective against bacteria, fungi and viruses. We can think of the coating as tiny positively charged spikes, which insert themselves into the membrane of a pathogen as it lands on the surface, similar to the way a row of pins would pop a balloon.

NitroPep is clinically proven to kill bacteria such as MRSA and E coli within minutes and initial tests also suggest that NitroPep is even effective against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and further research is now being carried out to verify this.

While the pandemic has made this year a challenging one, it has been heartening to see the positive impact our sector has had through carrying out excellent research, supporting the NHS and providing thought leadership in these difficult times.

Jeremy Swan works as a Public Affairs Manager (Policy Impact) for the University of Birmingham.

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