Hospital superbugs such as MRSA and Clostridium Difficile could be beaten using light, researchers said today.
A team from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow has developed a "pioneering" lighting system that can kill the bacteria.
The technology decontaminates the air and exposes surfaces by bathing them in a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths, known as HINS-light. It works by exciting molecules within the bacteria, which in turn produces "highly reactive" chemical species that are lethal to it.
Clinical trials at Glasgow Royal Infirmary suggest the HINS-light Environmental Decontamination System could provide "significantly greater" reductions of bacterial pathogens in hospitals than cleaning and disinfection alone. Other methods of decontamination, including gas sterilants or UV-light can also be hazardous to staff and patients.
Scientists said it was "a huge step forward" in preventing the spread of hospital infections.
The technology was discovered and developed by a multidisciplinary team of experts from the university, which included an electrical engineer, two microbiologists and an optical physicist. Microbiologist professor John Anderson said: "The technology kills pathogens but is harmless to patients and staff, which means for the first time, hospitals can continuously disinfect wards and isolation rooms.
"The clinical trials have shown that the technology can help prevent the environmental transmission of pathogens and thereby increase patient safety."
The technology uses violet coloured HINS-light, but the research team has used a combination of LED technologies to produce a warm white lighting system that can be used alongside normal hospital lighting.
Prof Scott MacGregor, an electrical engineer and the university's faculty of engineering dean, said: "New approaches to disinfection and sterilisation are urgently needed within the clinical environment, as traditional methods have significant limitations. HINS-light is a safe treatment that can be easily automated to provide continuous disinfection of wards and other areas of the clinical environment.
"The pervasive nature of light permits the treatment of air and all visible surfaces, regardless of accessibility, either through direct or reflected exposure to HINS-light within the treated environment."
The technology was developed in Strathclyde's Robertson Trust Laboratory and was supported by the University of Strathclyde, The Robertson Trust and the Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept Programme.