Using copper to prevent healthcare-associated infections

Research by Massey University master's student Sha Liu has shown that applying self-sanitising copper surfaces to items commonly touched in hospitals can provide sustained protection against microbial contamination. 

Model of copper-mediated contact killing

A graphical abstract showing the molecular mechanisms of xylose utilisation by a plant-associated bacterium

Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are a serious public health concern worldwide, and one in ten patients admitted to New Zealand public hospitals will acquire an infection while receiving treatments for other medical or surgical conditions.

An emerging strategy for HAI prevention is to apply self-sanitising copper surfaces to items commonly touched in hospitals, which can provide sustained protection against microbial contamination. This is owing to the fact that a wide range of microorganisms can be rapidly killed on metallic copper; a process termed “contact killing”.

Results from this research, led by Massey University's Dr. Xue-Xian Zhang and master's student Sha Liu*, show that the rate of bacterial killing on copper is largely determined by surface components of a bacterial cell, which act to release toxic copper ions eventually causing cell death; moreover, our primary data of experimental evolution indicate that bacterial pathogens have limited ability to evolve resistance to metallic copper.

*Sha, an international student from China won second prize in the student poster competition in the 60th New Zealand Microbiology Society Conference (02 – 05 Nov. 2015, Rotorua).

  • Dr Xue-Xian Zhang

    Dr Xue-Xian Zhang

    Senior Lecturer
    Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences

    I am a microbiologist currently working in the fields of bacterial molecular genetics, bacterial pathogenicity, experimental evolution, and the ecology of microbial communities in the soil. I have strong research interests to develop new strategies that can help prevent bacterial infectious diseases of plants as well as humans.

Sha Liu

Master of Science (Microbiology)

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