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Non-stick material helps fight infections

February 17, 2015
by Richard R. Rogoski
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Bacteria that form colonies called biofilms are often found growing on Intravenous and urinary catheters. But researchers in the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) at Harvard University have developed a non-stick material that inhibits the growth of bacteria.

Their findings, published in the inaugural issue of ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering, showed that the unique molecular structure of polymers enables these molecules to retain large amounts of lubricating liquids which rise to the surface, thus making the material continuously slippery and uninviting to bacteria.

For the initial studies the scientists used a solid silicone polymer like that used in traditional medical tubing and silicone oil. "The solid silicone tubing is saturated with silicone oil, soaking it up into all of the tiny spaces in its molecular structure so that the two materials really become completely integrated into one," said Caitlin Howell, PhD, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Wyss Institute and a co–author of the study, in a press release.

The importance of this research was underscored by Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, MD, PhD. "With widespread antibiotic resistance cropping up in many strains of infection-causing bacteria, developing out-of-the-box strategies to protect patients from bacterial biofilms has become a critical focus area for clinical researchers. Liquid-infused polymers could be used to prevent biofilms from ever taking hold, potentially reducing rates of infection and therefore reducing dependence on antibiotic use."