Aug. 9, 2023

How adding disinfectant to paint can prevent the spread of drug-resistant fungus

UCalgary researcher Maen Husein develops environmentally friendly chemical that could help fight microbes spreading across hospitals
Dr. Maen Husein
Maen Husein Samantha Lafleur

A Schulich School of Engineering professor is taking on a drug-resistant fungus that has become a big issue for hospitals in the U.S. and Canada. His solution? Painting walls with an environmentally friendly disinfectant.

Dr. Maen Husein, PhD, first started working on his disinfectant (called a biocide) during the COVID-19 pandemic. His hope was to create an environmentally friendly, non-toxic agent that could prevent the spread of germs. Now, with the pandemic declared officially over by the World Health Organization, Husein is looking at other ways to employ his invention, such as in combating a drug-resistant fungus called Candida auris that has been reported in hospitals in North America and described as a “serious global health threat” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“With the outbreak of viruses (and) bacteria that we have heard of — COVID is a good example, and now we are talking about an outbreak of fungus in hospitals — these microbes can really impact human health,” says Husein. “They caused all kinds of inconveniences when it came to COVID. People were required to be masked, they couldn’t travel … so, if we can protect ourselves by using environmentally friendly particles that would actually kill these microbes, that would be to our advantage so that we don’t really have to suffer all these inconveniences.”

A vile of Tri-filler.

A vile of Tri-filler.

Samantha Lafleur

The disinfectant, named Tri-filler, was created using “kitchen-friendly” products — including some that people may even already be adding to their food, such as calcium carbonate — as well as non-toxic cleaning agents.

Husein is working on mixing the disinfectant with paint and concrete which could be employed to protect high-microbial locations like hospitals and washrooms from moulds, fungus and bacteria. In developing the biocide, preliminary results confirmed the killing of more than 95 per cent of Candida auris after a relatively short contact time. Husein has partnered with Biosenta, a disinfectant company, in developing their early generation of Tri-filler.

Husein’s mixture of disinfectant and paint could be applied to hospital walls and help prevent the fungus from infecting patients. The disinfectant qualities of this paint will last many years, making it realistic and cost-effective to use in hospitals. This could also apply with a mixture of concrete and disinfectant where the walls of high-microbial locations could be formed using the disinfectant-mixed concrete.

PhD student, Noora Darwish, mixing the biocide with paint.

PhD student Noora Darwish mixes the biocide with paint.

Samantha Lafleur

Husein is working in a team that includes Dr. Ian Lewis, PhD, PD, associate professor with the Department of Biological Sciences; Noora Darwish, PhD student in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, who is working on novel methods of producing the core-shell antimicrobial particles with uniform particle size and consistent morphology; and Dr. Mehdi Ashani, PhD, postdoctoral associate in Biological Sciences, who develops protocols to test the efficacy of the antimicrobial particles. These protocols need to be representative of the final application and compare the performance of the core-shell particles to proper control samples.

Biosenta has also been a key part of bringing this all together. Biosenta produced the antimicrobial core-shell, Tri-filler, particles prior to engaging Husein’s lab and is looking for ways to improve product quality, in addition to reducing cost and increasing productivity. Biosenta's management has been involved in the progress of Husein’s work.

Moreover, Biosenta's management has been actively engaging potential collaborators and partner industries. Their press release on Aug. 9, 2023, announces advances in research and development supported by the collaboration with UCalgary.

Husein says he hopes this project can be taken even further and have all sorts of different applications including testing in resins and plastics, or even filtration units, and notes there are also drug-resistant “super bacteria” in circulation that the biocide could be used to prevent.

“No one knows how these microbes will mutate in the future so, if we can stop the super bacteria, as an example, and if we can have an anti-bacterial agent that impacts the population of super bacteria, then we are moving in the right direction,” he says.

Husein says he has seen a real commitment from Biosenta for the greater good. “We both agree that these environmentally friendly (biocides) benefit humanity, and Biosenta is committed to that,” he says. “I’ve been dealing with Biosenta for around four years, and I’ve seen lots of commitment to keeping the technology within Canada and making sure that humanity has access to it. And, as a result, the team feels encouraged to be inventive and come up with solutions to the pressing problems we are experiencing. We are also working on inventive ways to make this happen at a commercial scale.”

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