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Scientists at Aston University have discovered a technique similar to medieval stained glass-making that can completely eradicate the deadliest hospital infections within hours. Using a so-called bioactive phosphate glass containing small amounts of the metallic element cobalt, the researchers were able to achieve a "complete kill" of the deadly bacterial infections E.coli and Candida albicans (a fungal infection associated with surgery), as well as a near-complete kill of Staphylococcus aureus (the drug-resistant form of which is MRSA).
Richard Martin, lead researcher on the study from Aston University in Birmingham, said the findings had significant implications, offering the possibility of cheap, antimicrobial implants and coatings to combat the most common sources of infections associated with medical care. In the study, the researchers used a centuries-old technique to make glass laced with trace amounts of cobalt in a furnace heated to over 1,000 Degrees Celsius, before rapid cooling to prevent crystallization. These were then ground down into a fine powder and put into contact with bacteria in petri dishes. The glasses contained varying concentrations of cobalt, providing a controlled release of antimicrobial ions as they dissolved. At the highest concentration, the glass completely eradicated E.coli within just six hours, with a "complete kill" also observed for C. albicans within 24 hours. S. aureus levels were reduced by 99 percent after 24 hours.
Although bioactive glasses have been known about for some time, this is the first study to show that cobalt-doped bioactive glasses are effective in fighting specific bacterial microbes, opening the way for a wide range of uses to fight infection.