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The University of Southampton

Drug-free superbug bandage planned in major expansion of e-textiles

Published: 15 November 2020
Smart IT
SmartT will seek to develop a drug-free, superbug-killing bandage

Researchers from the University of Southampton will develop a printed bandage capable of killing superbugs without antibiotics in a new multimillion-pound programme opening up new markets for smart inks and textiles.

The SmartT programme, led by Southampton’s Professor David Harrowven and Professor Steve Beeby, brings together specialists from the UK and France to trigger the delivery and uptake of innovative smart textiles across a range of high growth industries.

By reaching across the Channel to build on complementary research, partners will unlock the potential for new functional inks to be applied in a diverse array of sectors such as fashion, sport, safety ware, advertising and mapmaking.

During the three-year project scientists will work at the atomic level, aided by high-performance computation, to deliver a drug-free bandage that delivers superbug-killing UV irradiation. The prototype could represent a vital solution to growing the worldwide issue of antimicrobial resistance.

SmartT also aims to make over 100 smart inks that each emit different coloured light following electrical stimulation, creating a colour chart spanning the entire visible spectrum from red to violet, and beyond into the ultraviolet region.

Professor Harrowven, Head of Organic Chemistry: Synthesis, Catalysis and Flow, says: “Smart e-textiles are projected to grow from €100 million to €2 billion over the next decade and our goal is to help SMEs realise their potential in this rapidly emerging field through the cooperation of experts on both sides of the Channel.

“SmartT will help develop new products and services, ranging from dynamic fabric mapping products for the tourism and outdoor leisure market to a drug-free anti-infective bandage prototypes and eco-friendly anti-fouling surfaces.”

The €5.5 million Interreg grant, which includes €3.7 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), combines the University of Southampton’s Organic Chemistry and Smart Electronic Materials and Systems (SEMS) groups with expertise from France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, the University of Rouen, the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées (INSA), L'Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER) and SME SplashMaps Ltd.

Rebecca Mayrhofer, SmartT Project Manager, says: “Our aim is to bridge the gap between our academic innovators and industry, paving the way for new product developments and applications.”

Smart e-textiles are produced by embedding pixels (OLECs) that emit light when stimulated electrically. Each pixel has a sandwich structure comprised of five layers.

The top and bottom layers are colourless polymer coatings designed to protect the functional inner layers from scratching, oxidation by air or leaching/corrosion on washing. The inner layers are composed of positive and negative electrical contacts separated by the functional ink which produces the light when live.

To maximise business opportunities and impact, SmartT has specialists in device fabrication working alongside experts with the skills needed to tune each layer of the pixel for a specified application.

Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) has over 40 years' experience in the area of printed functional materials and electronic systems. Professor Beeby, Head of the SEMS group, was recently awarded a prestigious Chair in Emerging Technologies from the Royal Academy of Engineering to pioneer reliable e-textile systems.

Chemistry at Southampton adds its world-leading synthetic and flow chemistry expertise to the project. Notably, an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded collaboration of around £1 million with ECS has allowed them to develop a series of inks with useful functionality in e-textiles.

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