Researchers have developed an innovative first-of-its-kind self-sterilising plastic film that can kill viruses that land on its surface with room light

The film has been developed by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-funded researchers at Queen’s University Belfast.

The self-sterilising film is the first of its kind. It is low cost to produce, can be readily scaled and could be used for disposable aprons, tablecloths, and curtains in hospitals. It is coated with a thin layer of particles that absorb ultraviolet (UV) light and produce reactive oxygen species, ROS. These kill viruses, including SARS2.

The technology used to create the film also ensures it is degradable, unlike the current disposable plastic films it would replace, which is much more environmentally friendly.

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A significant reduction

The breakthrough could lead to a significant reduction in the transmission of viruses in healthcare environments but also in other settings that use plastic films, for example, food production factories.

The Queen’s researchers tested the film for anti-viral activity using four different viruses, exposing it to either UVA radiation or with light from a cool white light fluorescent lamp. The four different viruses used were two strains of influenza A virus, a highly-stable picornavirus called EMCV and SARS2.

They found that the film is effective at killing all of the viruses, even in a room lit with just white fluorescent tubes.

Innovative, low-cost technology

Co-lead Professor Andrew Mills said: “This film could replace many of the disposable plastic films used in the healthcare industry as it has the added value of being self-sterilising at no real extra cost.

“Through rigorous testing we have found that it is effective at killing viruses with just room light – this is the first time that anything like this has been developed and we hope that it will be a huge benefit to society.”

Co-lead Dr Connor Bamford added: “Pathogenic viruses like SARS2 and influenza will continue to be a global problem for years to come. In developing self-sterilising thin plastic films, we have created a low-cost technology that could have a significant impact on the transmission of such concerning viruses in a healthcare environment and other sectors where they are used.”

And EPSRC director for cross council programmes, Dr Kedar Pandya, said: “This is a hugely exciting development which has the potential to dramatically reduce the transmission of viruses across a wide range of settings while being environmentally sustainable.

“It is an excellent example of adventurous, innovative research which has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people.”

The research has been published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology.

Image credit: Queen’s University Belfast