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Electrospinning Yields Holds Promise for Safer Medical Garments

PULLMAN, Wash. — Researchers in Washington State University’s Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles are conducting innovative research on a process called electrospinning, which would allow for the creation of fabrics that could keep health-care professionals safer.

Karen Leonas, left, and Hang Liu, in the WSU Textile Lab. Click image to download high-resolution version. Photo: Brian Charles Clark/WSU CAHNRS Marketing, News, and Educational Communications.

Electrospinning is a spinning method used to produce synthetic fabrics. This process differs from other methods in that electrical force, rather than mechanical force, is used to draw out polymers. When this is done, this method can create extremely thin fibers called nanofibers. Most other methods of fabric spinning can only produce microfibers, which are orders of magnitude larger than their nanofiber counterparts, said Hang Liu, a post-doctoral research associate in AMDT who is investigating the process.

There are many potential advantages in producing nanofibers through electrospinning.

“Perhaps the biggest advantage of nanofibers is the large surface-to-volume ratio,” Liu said.

The large surface-to-volume ratio allows the fabrics to have excellent filtration properties. Good filtration is important to certain types of garments, particularly in the medical field. When high-efficiency filtration is applied to surgical gowns, the result is that fewer outside agents are able to permeate the gown, thus increasing safety for doctors and patients.

Electrospinning could be utilized in areas other than apparel. One of the greatest potential opportunities for electrospinning technology is within the field of post-surgery sutures, Liu said.

The electrospinning of webs could be used to stitch wounds with an antimicrobial agent, which would work to decrease site infections post-surgery. Antimicrobial agents work to kill microorganisms that enter the surgical site and cause inflammation and infection. If an antimicrobial agent could be incorporated within a suture, it could degrade along with the fabric and as such would be released slowly and systematically, said Karen Leonas, chair of the AMDT department.

“This can’t be done with other sutures because these have to be sealed with heat, which would in turn destroy the antimicrobial agent,” Leonas said.

Having an effective method which can reduce surgical site infections would yield numerous benefits, Leonas said. A reduced chance of post-surgical site infection would lower insurance costs for hospitals and patients.

“But, just as importantly, there would be great psychological benefits to this research. If the family can be reassured that a loved one will be safe from surgical site infections, this lends a great value to the research,” Leonas said.

This project has been Liu’s personal mission since 2004, when she began her research. And although the concept has come a long way since she first began working on it six years ago, Liu said there is still much to be done in the study.

“I have a passion for this, and I hope to solve many problems,” Liu said.

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NOTE: Marketing, News, and Educational Communications intern Kathryn R. Sullivan wrote this news story.

Media Contacts

Leonas , professor and chair, 509-335-1233
Hang Liu, post-doctoral research associate, 509-335-4726