The compound, which could be added to detergents or used as a coating for hospital equipment, is able to trap and release the gas nitric oxide – which is also produced by our own immune systems to kill bugs.
Previously, harnessing the gas has proved difficult because it dissipates into the atmosphere within seconds of being released from storage. The new compound is able to trap the gas, which is released only when the compound gets wet.
Now researchers have been able to use the compound to kill off a range of bacteria including antibiotic-resistant bugs such as C.difficile.
The research was led by the University of Edinburgh, working in collaboration with the University of St Andrews, Glasgow Caledonian University and UHI, the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands.
The new material could also enable nitric oxide to be incorporated into dressings to kill bugs so that they do not enter wounds.
Hospital-acquired infections are thought to affect more than 300,000 patients in the UK every year and cause around 5,000 deaths.
Professor Adriano Rossi, of the University of Edinburgh, who directed the study, said: “Immune cells within our body release nitric oxide when targeting bugs. Creating a material that can trap and then release nitric oxide gas means that we are able to kill bugs on surfaces.
“We hope that in the future the material we have developed could be used in surface disinfectants. Alternatively, we could place the material on bandages or medical instruments, so that moisture from an open wound would release the gas – meaning that the bugs would be killed off before they have a chance of entering the body.”
The researchers, whose work is published in the journal Acta Biomaterialia, hope to refine the substance to release small amounts of nitric oxide over a period of time, for continuous dosage.
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