Partnership will aim to significantly improve cleaning of endoscopes

Academics at Aston University are teaming up with Stoke-on-Trent-based medical product company, PFE Medical, which supplies endoscopy and healthcare disposables, to improve the cleaning of endoscopes.

The researchers will be collaborating with PFE Medical on a Knowledge Transfer Project (KTP) to assess if fibre optic probes carrying ultraviolet (UV) light can detect biofilms. If successful they will use this to develop ‘a world-first’ device to inspect devices and clear them for use, improving patient safety. A KTP is a three-way collaboration between a business, an academic partner, and a highly qualified researcher, known as a KTP associate.

Aston University is a sector leading KTP provider, with 80% of its completed projects being graded as ‘very good’ or ‘outstanding’ by national body, ‘Innovate UK’.

Both project partners concede that to date cleaning endoscopes sufficiently has challenging, and that ‘even with new developments, they can still end up with a bacterial biofilm inside them’. Due to the sensitivity of the materials and electronics, endoscopes cannot be sterilised in the same way as other laboratory and medical equipment, and require lengthy cleaning procedures.

The project will be led by Professor Kate Sugden, Deputy Dean of Aston University’s School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, who has significant experience in both industry and academia, and one of whose main research focus areas is fibre optic sensing systems; she has worked as a director for two fibre optic companies. She will be working with Dr Tony Worthington – an Associate Professor in the College of Health and Life Sciences at Aston University and a member of the Cell & Tissue Biomedical Research Group who  brings extensive knowledge of healthcare-associated infections and biofilms, and Dr David Benton – Senior Research Fellow in Aston University’s Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies. 

Previously, an award-winning KTP between the University and PFE Medical resulted in the development of a machine known as ‘Khamsin’, which reportedly ‘dramatically improved’ the cleaning process. This new technology is undergoing real-world trials in the West Midlands and – the University and PFE Medical say – ‘looks set to save the NHS significant time and money’.  The project partners said: “Even with such high-powered cleaning, endoscopes can still end up with a bacterial biofilm inside them, however. Biofilms show increased antibiotic and disinfectant resistance, and can therefore build up over time, even with effective cleaning and decontamination processes.”

Rob Hartley, MD of PFE Medical, said: “Biofilm is a hidden killer, and we have no way to detect it currently without completely taking apart these medical devices. There is rising concern about microbial resistance, and to find a way to objectively detect bacteria would be a true innovation that would have impact worldwide.”

Professor Sugden added: said: “It was exciting to go to PFE Medical recently and see Khamsin in action, knowing this new product came from a project that only finished last year. It will be a challenge to match the last project’s success, but I am optimistic we can draw on the combined talent and facilities once again to make a significant contribution to solving this problem.”

The Aston University researchers will be working with Rebecca Hartley at PFE Medical, a product specialist for 10 years, and a qualified validation engineer for decontamination. The project will run for two years, and is due for completion in 2026.



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