Plasmonic filter to battle hospital infections 

Pinpoint Medical and University of Glasgow developing optical biosensing tech to detect and eliminate airborne pathogens and transform health outcomes in hospitals. 

Airborne infections can spread quickly and easily between hospital patients, staff and visitors. People can become seriously ill as a result and such infections can cost the NHS billions of pounds each year. Infections include virus-based diseases such as flu and Covid, bacterial infections such as clostridioides difficile – which causes diarrhea and colitis – and so-called ‘superbugs’ like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). There are also fungal infections caused by airborne spores. 

a man sitting in front of a refrigerator

Photo by Jonathan Borba

While these ailments and their causes are well understood, to date the monitoring and control of airborne infections relies largely on testing swabs taken from surfaces and equipment, and then wiping these down with disinfectant. It’s a time-consuming process and of only limited effectiveness. 

But now a simple-to-use simple could revolutionise the detection and elimination of such pathogens, reducing the costs of tackling a whole range of highly transmissible illnesses – and improving health outcomes.  

The new all-in-one system integrates advanced air decontamination tech devised by Perth-based Pinpoint Medical with an innovative diagnostic technique developed by the University of Glasgow, the latter drawing on nearly a decade of research at the university funded largely by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC, part of UK Research and Innovation).  

The diagnostic technique is based on a well-tested optical biosensing technology called ‘plasmonics’, which involves the generation, detection and manipulation of optical signals along interfaces between metals and dielectric materials at the tiny, nanometre scale. With support from EPSRC and others, the Glasgow team developed a biosensor platform based on nanopatterned plasmonic consumables manufactured in a similar way to Blu-ray. 

Integrating this with Pinpoint’s air sampling mechanism in a system about the size of a coffee machine enables continuous airborne pathogen testing. Unique porous ceramic filters perform ultraviolet photocatalysis – the acceleration of chemical reactions using light. The result measures air quality and decontaminates the air of pathogens, ensuring a safer, healthier environment. 

Dr Andrew Bourne, Executive Director of Partnerships at EPSRC, says: ‘This system promises to be a real game-changer as a diagnostic tool. Almost a decade of continuous EPSRC support has helped bring this breakthrough within reach. By making integrated surveillance and elimination of airborne pathogens practical and cost-effective, it could transform the fight against hospital infections.  It could also help limit the spread of future pandemics and even detect their emergence.’ 

Dr Affar Karimullah of the University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry, and Chief Technology Officer with Pinpoint Medical, adds: ‘Our innovative point-of-care diagnostics platform developed with EPSRC support has huge potential. As well as hospitals, the combined monitoring/filtration system could be deployed on planes and in all kinds of public hotspots where airborne infections spread easily. The system could be fully up and running within two to three years and begin to be deployed in hospitals within five years.’

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