Scotland business

'Crystal sponge' to wipe away infection

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Media captionResearchers hope the advances could lead to a new generation of medical devices

A spin-out company from St Andrews University is producing a new product to fight healthcare-acquired infections.

They're based on metal organic frameworks (MOFs).

They look like unassuming powdery solids but they pack a punch thanks to the millions of tiny holes they contain.

The company - called MOFgen - is loading these microscopic pores with the sorts of things that can't normally go where solids can: an antibiotic or a therapeutic gas like nitric oxide.

MOFgen's head of applications development, Dr Morven Duncan, likens a MOF to a "crystalline sponge".

Dr Duncan has set up an apparatus to show us what happens. The MOFs - in this example pale yellow - have the nitric oxide gas passed through them. The yellow turns to mid-brown as the MOF picks up its healing payload.

Image caption The microscopic holes in the MOFs soak up the gas

The solid MOF is now packing a punch against infection.

MOFgen has been set up to use the properties of MOFs where they're most needed: the healthcare system.

That's because while most people go into hospital in the hope of getting better, sometimes it's the hospital itself that can make you ill.

C difficle, E coli, staphylococcus aureus and other bugs can be lying in wait unless the right measures are taken.

It's a situation that's getting more difficult as some of these healthcare-acquired infections become resistant to common antibiotics.

'Increase healing rates'

The MOFs and their healing payloads can be made into coatings for medical devices where deep-seated infections can be difficult to treat.

"These coatings are going to make a huge difference to people who use indwelling medical devices such as catheters which are prone to healthcare-acquired infections," says MOFgen's head of research and technology Dr Stewart Warrender.

"Also to people with chronic, slow-to-heal wounds.

"We believe that the delivery of the nitric oxide from the MOFs, along with other active agents we can deliver from the products, will help to reduce these healthcare-acquired infections and increase healing rates."

Image caption The holes in the Mofs can also carry antibiotics

The company has already won first prize in the Royal Society of Chemistry's emerging technologies competition.

It's also won a big new tranche of investment from Mercia Fund Management and the Scottish Investment Bank to take commercialisation to the next stage.

"We're the first ever company that's actually used this technology in the healthcare market," says chief executive Dr Yvonne Davies.

"So we're extremely excited about this - and this is what's got our investors excited as well."

Healthcare-acquired infections can seem like a rising tide. MOFs could be about to play a big role in turning it.

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