How the toughest Bacteria on earth is making our lives cleaner

It’s not often that the NHS, a government research body, and a commercial business work together towards a common goal, but that’s exactly what has happened.

Deep in the ocean, hydrothermal vent ecosystems continue to redefine our understanding of the requirements for life. The ability of vent organisms to survive and thrive in such extreme pressures and temperatures and in the presence of toxic mineral plumes is fascinating. But what is even more fascinating is that this is leading to huge advancements in steralisation.

WASHtAK is a new innovative technology to be used in hospitals that could reduce the potential spread of infection and ultimately improve patient care. The development of this product could not have been feasible without the input of all three organisations.

A team of researchers from the Health Protection Agency (HPA), a government research body at Porton Down, has been investigating technology, which uses enzymes extracted from bacteria found near vents of hot noxious gases in the ocean floor. This enzymatic technology is now being applied to monitor the effectiveness of cleaning processes at removing contamination from surgical instruments. The HPA has a breadth of knowledge and expertise, which they have provided in order to, develop WASHtAK to where it is now. 

The technology can measure quantifiably and objectively, the performance of existing wash processes used to clean surgical instruments in hospital sterile services. Managers are able to use the method to monitor and optimise these processes, which will in turn lead to a reduction in the risk of disease transmission and improved healthcare.

The Sterilisation and Disinfection Unit (SDU) at Salisbury District Hospital aided the project by allowing and assisting trials of the new technology to be conducted, and actively facilitated the investigations that the HPA team were performing. The staff at the SDU supported bringing this new technology to market by inputting real user information, throughout the process.  

BIOtAK Ltd owns the commercial licence for this new technology, and they are planning to bring a range of products to market using this enzymatic advancement. The company has the long-term goal of driving up the level of standards for cleaning and sterilising surgical equipment and has been the commercial driving force behind the development of WASHtAK. Funding for the work has been provided by BIOtAK, the Department of Health, and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), through its Invention for Innovation Scheme. All three partners have provided their own industry expertise aiming to develop a product that is fit for purpose, addresses the scientific and technological issues around cleaning processes, and is commercially viable.

 

Any technological advancement that improves the effectiveness of sterilisation warrants the correct research and development. But this is about more than just improving the margins, and effecting numbers. This has potential to give us a real measurable sliding scale, develop new standards within existing equipment without the need for expensive upgrades, and improve healthcare without long drawn out budgeting plans. However great all this potential is, the really exciting frontier being breached here for me is one of creative microbiological application and exploration. The success of this project paves the way for further research and understanding of the extreme nature and resilience of enzymatic lifeforms. A recent development in synthetic enzymes by scientists at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, has inroads to curing illness such cancer and emboli. “Synthetic biology is delivering some truly amazing advances that promise to change the way we understand and treat disease, the UK excels in this field and this latest advance offers the tantalising prospect of using designer biological parts as a starting point for an entirely new class of therapies and diagnostic tools that are more effective and have a longer shelf-life,” Professor Maxwell said. In my opinion, this research has some of the greatest potential to effect real change.

 

Lucina Ridgewell LinkedIn Profile

 

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