The Faculty of Engineering worked closely with the university’s School of Life Sciences and School of Pharmacy to develop a new ‘non-stick’ catheter coating that prevents bacteria forming biofilm, reducing potentially life-threatening hospital acquired infections (HAI).

The chemical/materials engineering research, led by Professor Derek Irvine, was critical to overcoming key barriers to commercialisation of the new catheter coating. His expertise in polymers and their industrial applications includes 16 years in research posts at Imperial Chemical Industries, where his work focused on four areas: flexibility, ease of use, shelf life and supporting manufacturing scale up.

Initially, Professor Irvine came into the team to identify and optimise a suitable copolymer structure to give the level of flexibility required for the catheter without damaging the coating. This had to be achieved whilst maintaining the coatings bacterial resistant properties. The co-polymerisation technique used to achieve this delivered the additional benefit of making the catheter easier to insert in comparison to the current industry benchmark catheters.

Professor Irvine’s team further developed the coating to maintain an appropriate shelf life to match the needs of the customer, and – through their research into the restricting the level of cross-linking within polymers - helped solve the issue of the coating becoming brittle over time. Addressing these key challenges made the product commercially viable and the bacteriaphobic urinary catheter achieved CE mark approval in 2017.

Working closely with Camstent Ltd, a platform medical materials and coating process company, Professor Irvine helped bring the new catheter to market, with Camstent Ltd manufacturing the coated catheters for hospital trials.

Every week, around the world, millions of urinary catheters are used. Anyone using a catheter for more than a week is likely to get HAI, prolonging their time in hospital and potentially contributing to cause of death. Recognised as one of the biggest problems facing global healthcare, HAI's cost the NHS more than £1 billion a year. The new catheter coating has the potential to reduce the burden of HAIs. Trials of the new catheter are being held in six hospitals across the UK to help determine whether the promising laboratory results translate into a significant reduction in infection rates.



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