Space Tech Could be the Solution to Hospital Infections

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This space tech brings the solution for challenges like in-hospital cross-infections and carbon emission – project PASTA (Plasma Air Sterilization and Treatment Apparatus).

HAIs, or Healthcare-acquired infections (also known as nosocomial infections) are infections that patients get while receiving treatment in hospitals. In the UK, over 300,000 patients a year get an airborne virus while receiving medical treatment in hospitals, while in the US HAIs are said to account for about 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths every year.

This means that there has to be a new solution for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in hospitals – and PASTA is meant to address the problem of cross infections directly, helping to protect both patients and staff within hospitals.

Dr. Minkwan Kim from the University of Southampton works on project PASTA, and states: “In space, we’re using the applications’ physical momentum. On Earth, we’re looking at the chemical characteristics to kill pathogens and viruses that commonly cause healthcare-associated infections.”

According to Interesting Engineering, the PASTA project uses a porous surface DBD plasma generator that was developed for a water treatment system for long-term space exploration missions. On Earth, this technology could be used to sanitize the air.

The researchers tested this tech for purposes on Earth by injecting plasma-treated air into water. They explain that this process makes pathogens believe they are exposed to external threats, leading them to over-produce hydroperoxide – a cell-damaging agent – which kills the pathogen. When measuring the capability of plasma-treated air to remove harmful substances in the air, they found 95% effectiveness within 5 minutes.

Dr. Kim added that current systems only dilute air with fresh air to reduce the chances of infection, meaning they do not eliminate the risk and have been proven insufficient for the filtration of pathogenic agents, like viruses. “A plasma treatment system eliminates this concern, as we’re treating the air inside the hospital and properly sterilizing it.”

He concludes by opining that PASTA could positively impact hospitals’ carbon footprints- the findings estimate that they could reduce a hospital’s energy bill by at least 50 percent when compared to current systems. He adds that by improving the energy efficiency of a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, PASTA has the potential to significantly reduce emissions, as studies show that healthcare systems are responsible for 4%–5% of the emissions of greenhouse gases worldwide.