Applying Surface Engineering to PPEs in the Fight against Covid-19
Lead Researcher: Dr Emmanuel Ekoi, DCU School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering
Collaborators: Professor Denis Dowling, UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Professor Aoife Gowen, UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering, and Dr Virginie Gautier, UCD School of Medicine/UCD Centre for Experimental Pathogen Host Research (CEPHR).
Funder: Science Foundation Ireland/Enterprise Ireland/IDA Ireland joint Covid-19 Rapid Response Fund
There is still little information on the role of surface properties in the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ ability to survive on surfaces, especially PPE surfaces. Addressing this, postdoctoral researcher Emmanuel Ekoi and his team from UCD are investigating surface topology and the spread of Covid-19 disease – with the specific aim of identifying superior PPE surfaces to help reduce infection of frontline healthcare workers. The team anticipates that the identified PPE surfaces will be capable of reducing the virus’ life span and/or killing it upon contact.
Among the measures currently employed to reduce the spread of Covid-19, surface cleaning with disinfectant and avoiding contact with surfaces are thought to be of key importance, as demonstrated by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
However, these measures although effective, are generally difficult to implement in hospitals, especially among healthcare staff who are always in daily contact with surfaces. Surfaces which prevents the spread and/or kills coronavirus are therefore essential for the eradication of the virus in a hospital setting.
Although there have been studies on the detection and survivability of SARS and MERS coronaviruses on surfaces, there is little or no study dedicating to understanding the relationship between Covid-19 and surface properties of PPEs. The key questions are:
- What effect does surface properties such as texture, surface energy, etc. have on the Covid-19 virus stability and survivability?
- Could identifying PPE surfaces with superior antiviral properties aid in the fight against Covid-19?
What will the research project do?
The project aims to identify PPEs with superior surface properties and collaborates with healthcare consultants and nurses (the beneficiaries), both at the research design and virus collection stages. The solution will be deployed within 6 months of the start date in St Vincent's University Hospital (SVUH) through the healthcare collaborators.
A fundamental study to understand the impact of surface types, properties and the environmental conditions on Covid-19 virus stability and survivability will be carried out while incorporating a chemometrics (data-driven chemistry) approach to allow us to probe their influence on subsequent viral load. Based on the results, a superior PPE surface will be identified.
Healthcare workers, patients and policymakers, have been identified as groups who will directly benefit from this research. Amongst the beneficiaries, frontline healthcare workers will benefit the most because of the complexity of their daily work which increases the probability of coming in contact with the virus. An assessment of the current situation indicates that in the public health sector, nursing staff are more likely to come in contact with Covid-19 patients – and presently 31.8% of the 11,926 public health workers are nursing staff. At least 35% of public health workers will come in contact with PPE surfaces on daily basis (not factoring in the private sector) and thus would benefit from improved PPE surfaces.
This project is expected to have the following impact in Ireland:
- An understanding of the role of PPE surfaces and their properties on Covid-19 disease spread will provide information for pandemic mitigation efforts and thus help to reduce infection of frontline healthcare workers. It is anticipated that the solution will provide hospitals with improved PPE surfaces and thus lead to a reduction in infection level. This might result in their possible deployment internationally.
- This solution will see that less people are infected and require health care when they come in contact with surfaces, which would have a positive impact on the economy, with the global growth expected to turn sharply negative in 2021.
Professor Denis Dowling, UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering
Professor Aoife Gowen, UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering
Dr Virginie Gautier, UCD School of Medicine/UCD CEPHR