Published on 20/05/2024
Share this Article:
Aston University experts team up with medical products company to help make endoscopes cleaner and safer
  • Endoscopes are instruments that are used to look inside the body
  • Even with new developments cleaning them sufficiently has been a challenge 
  • The University has entered a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) with PFE Medical to improve the process by removing bacterial biofilm inside them. 

Aston University experts are teaming up with a medical products company to improve the cleaning of endoscopes.
Endoscopes are long, thin instruments with a light and camera at one end that are used to look inside the body.

Cleaning them sufficiently has been a challenge and even with new developments they can still end up with a bacterial biofilm inside them.

The University will be collaborating with Stoke-on-Trent-based PFE Medical on a Knowledge Transfer Project (KTP) to assess if fibreoptic probes carrying ultraviolet (UV) light can detect biofilms. If successful they will use this to develop a world-first device to inspect devices and clear them for use, improving patient safety.

A KTP is a three-way collaboration between a business, an academic partner and a highly qualified researcher, known as a KTP associate. The UK-wide programme helps businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills. 

Aston University is a sector leading KTP provider, with 80% of its completed projects being graded as very good or outstanding by Innovate UK, the national body.

Due to the sensitivity of the materials and electronics, endoscopes cannot be sterilised in the same way as other laboratory and medical equipment and require lengthy cleaning procedures.

Previously an award-winning KTP between the University and PFE Medical resulted in a machine known as Khamsin which dramatically improved the cleaning process. This new technology is undergoing real-world trials in the West Midlands and looks set to save the NHS significant time and money. 

Even with such high-powered cleaning, endoscopes can still end up with a bacterial biofilm inside them. Biofilms are large clusters of bacteria that are attached to a surface and to each other through the production of a slime layer. 

They show increased resistance to antibiotics as well as disinfectants and can therefore build up over time, even with effective cleaning and decontamination processes. Endoscopes with these resistant bacteria inside can lead to infections and even the death of patients. 

Rob Hartley, Managing Director of PFE Medical said: “Biofilm is a hidden killer, and we have no way to detect it currently without completely taking apart these medical devices. There is rising concern about microbial resistance and to find a way to objectively detect bacteria would be a true innovation that would have impact around the world.”

This new KTP follows the previous work by the two organisations, combining PFE Medical’s knowledge of endoscopes with highly specialised knowledge and expertise in fibre optics at Aston University's Institute of Photonic Technologies (AIPT), a world-leading photonics research centre with a track record of success in medical lasers and bio-sensing for healthcare. 

The project will be led by Professor Kate Sugden, Deputy Dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Sciences who has significant experience in both industry and academia. One of her main research focus areas is on fibre optic sensing systems and she has worked as a director for two fibre optic companies. She said: “It was exciting to go to PFE Medical recently and see Khamsin in action, knowing that this new product came from a project that only finished last year. It will be a challenge to match the success of the last project, but I am optimistic that we can draw on the combined talent and facilities once again to make a significant contribution to solving this problem.”

She will be working with Dr Tony Worthington and Dr David Benton. Dr Worthington is an Associate Professor in the College of Health and Life Sciences at Aston University and a member of the Cell & Tissue Biomedical Research Group. He brings extensive knowledge of healthcare associated infections and biofilms, and can advise on their identification for this project. 

He said: “This KTP project continues the innovative and transformational work that we have done together in the endoscope cleaning and reprocessing sector. To find a way to objectively view if biofilm is present within an endoscope could be world-changing and have global impact for many patients.”

Meanwhile Dr David Benton is a Senior Research Fellow in Aston University’s AIPT. He spent many years working in industry, and his research expertise covers topics including laser detection and optical spectroscopy. 
The Aston University researchers will be working with Rebecca Hartley at PFE Medical, who has been a product specialist for 10 years and is a qualified validation engineer for decontamination. 

The project will run for two years and is due for completion in 2026.
For more information on the KTP visit the webpage.

Notes to editors

This project is co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

Watch our short film to see how it works and visit our website for examples of KTP in action at Aston Univeristy.

To find out more about how your business can benefit from working with Aston University, please email

About Aston University
For over a century, Aston University’s enduring purpose has been to make our world a better place through education, research and innovation, by enabling our students to succeed in work and life, and by supporting our communities to thrive economically, socially and culturally.
Aston University’s history has been intertwined with the history of Birmingham, a remarkable city that once was the heartland of the Industrial Revolution and the manufacturing powerhouse of the world.
Born out of the First Industrial Revolution, Aston University has a proud and distinct heritage dating back to our formation as the School of Metallurgy in 1875, the first UK College of Technology in 1951, gaining university status by Royal Charter in 1966, and becoming The Guardian University of the Year in 2020.
Building on our outstanding past, we are now defining our place and role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (and beyond) within a rapidly changing world.
For media inquiries in relation to this release, contact Nicola Jones, Press and Communications Manager, on (+44) 7825 342091 or email:


Sue Smith,
Head of Press and Communications


Sam Cook,
Press and Communications Manager


Nicola Jones,
Press and Communications Manager


Helen Tunnicliffe,
Press and Communications Manager


Alternatively, email