When we hear the word alchemist we often think of some kind of a pseudoscientist, but in truth, they were instrumental in developing the basics of modern chemistry and medicine. Their work with lead into gold was part of a long line of investigation into the antimicrobial properties of various metals which continues today.

One line of research of particular significance for the healthcare setting has produced breakthroughs in the area of self-sanitizing surfaces based on compounds of metal. For the purpose of this brief, we will look specifically at titanium dioxide (TiO2). 

Titanium was first discovered in 1791 by William Gregor.  Since then it has been used in a variety of ways in many forms.  Today we see it in jet aircraft and orthopedic implants, among other things.  TiO2 is one of its many compound forms and is used in pigments in chemical manufacturing as well as coatings.  Interestingly, it serves as the coating in many sunscreens, but or more significant, it is also used in window coatings to purify air as the coating reacts to exposure to ultraviolet light.

TiO2 is a photocatalysis.  “Photo” in this case refers to light.  Catalysis is a chemical process of breaking down organic compounds into base elements.  Together, the term photo catalysis means that when the TiO2 anti-oxidant is hit with light, it releases hydroxyl radicals (OH-) that are remarkably effective in rapidly decomposing organic matter. This chemical process, photo catalysis, converts organic matter into the harmless elements of water and carbon dioxide, which are then released into the air in minute and unnoticeable quantities.  And because the TIO2 is inert, it will continue doing this for a very long time.

There are obvious applications in the healthcare field.  Bacteria and viruses are organic compounds and the photocatalysis process can very effectively be used in breaking these sometimes deadly gems down into harmless base elements.  Applying the TiO2 compound to surfaces in patient care areas will aid in eliminating the harmful pathogens that can live on surfaces for weeks or months.

In the healthcare field specially formulated Titanium Dioxide Coatings are the cutting edge products for killing germs on an on-going basis to protect surfaces from harboring the microbes that cause healthcare acquired infections (HAI).  This technology is one more step in the fight to eradicate the “superbug”.  More and more hospitals are looking to this technology to keep their facilities safe.