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Scientists at UWE Bristol work to support frontline staff

By ellie pipe, Friday Mar 27, 2020

As supply chains struggle to keep up with the demand for disinfectant during the coronavirus pandemic, scientists at UWE Bristol are stepping up to the mark.

A team of academics have paused their research projects to focus on producing thousands of litres of specialist cleaning fluid for frontline staff, including ambulance crews, police and care workers.

They are also working with industry partners to increase the production of generators that make disinfectant. These generators will be capable of producing 1,000 litres a day and will be installed in-situ where it is most needed, such as hospitals, ambulance stations, care homes and police stations.

“We’ve been researching this technology for the past 20 years, and have specialist production facilities in our lab, so are very well placed to help support frontline clinical areas,” says Darren Reynolds, a professor of health and environment.

“We’re happy to be contributing our expertise and facilities to helping frontline staff who are doing a wonderful job in extremely challenging circumstances.

“The NHS would normally receive disinfectant from cleaning suppliers but as demand has increased, the supply chain is struggling to keep up. If there are any frontline services (hospitals, ambulance services, police stations, care homes), having difficulty with supplies of disinfectant or hand sanitiser, get in touch with us and we’ll endeavour to provide and deliver it. We are here to help.”

Disinfectant produced in a lab at UWE Bristol’s Frenchay campus has so far been sent to South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, GP surgeries and police stations.

As well as being used as a surface disinfectant, the lab-produced product could play a role in tackling the UK’s shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical staff. It can be used to spray down some PPE for decontamination and safe reuse as well as disinfect the inside of ambulances. This approach is being tested with industrial partners at an independent laboratory ahead of possible introduction to the front line.

Unlike commonly-used disinfectants, such as bleach, the product is called electrochemically activated solution (ECAS). UWE is one of the leaders in the world on the development of these solutions and their applications.

Previous research has included testing its efficacy on fresh produce, its use in off-grid drinking water production and as a surface disinfectant on a wide variety of materials.

The work on disinfectant forms part of the broader role UWE Bristol is playing in the immediate crisis.

The university is in discussions with NHS colleagues to offer support and resources, which could include science labs being used for testing and nursing skills laboratories and simulation suites being used for training staff or providing care by using them as wards.

UWE Bristol has also offered to support the production of ventilators through its 3D printing and rapid prototyping facilities within the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at Frenchay campus.

Professor Steve West, vice-chancellor at UWE Bristol, said: “It is absolutely fantastic to see different areas of the university pulling together at this time of great uncertainty to use their experience and resources to support the NHS and other frontline services.

“Universities have the potential to play a critical part in getting the country through this immediate crisis and I’m enormously proud of all of our staff for their contributions.”

Disinfectant produced by scientists at UWE Bristol. Photo courtesy of UWE Bristol

Read more: Pollution decreases in Bristol under coronavirus restrictions

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