Medical implants coated with ‘slippery surfaces’ repel infectious biofilms

RESEARCHERS have developed
a new biomaterial that creates a
“slippery surface” and stops infectious bacterial biofilms forming on implanted medical devices. In a new study, they show how the biomaterial significantly reduced bacterial adhesion while preserving normal immune response. They suggest the new material shows promise as a way to substantially lower the risk of implant infection and healthcare costs.
The researchers, including a team from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University in Boston, MA, report their findings in the journal Biofilms.
Biofilms form when bacteria stick to surfaces and establish communities held together by a slimy, glue-like substance made of sugary molecular strands that they excrete to form an extracellular matrix.
Biofilms grow on all kinds of surfaces, both natural and man-made. Essentially, wherever moisture, nutrients, and a surface are found together, you will most likely also find biofilm.
The study of biofilms has increased rapidly in recent years as we have become more aware of their pervasiveness and impact. The equipment damage, product contamination, energy losses, and medical infections caused by biofilms cost the United States billions of dollars every year.
In medicine, biofilms are a hazard because they can form on living surfaces, such as heart and lung tissue, and on medical devices and implants. Once established, they cause infections that are hard to treat. They also contribute to the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections seen in hospitals.
The new study describes a novel biomaterial made from medical-grade teflon materials and liquids. It is based on the concept of “slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces,” or SLIPS, developed by co-senior author Joanna Aizenberg, a Harvard professor of chemistry and chemical biology.
Prof. Aizenberg got the idea for SLIPS from observing how the carnivorous pitcher plant catches insects on the slippery surfaces on its leaves – by using their porous surfaces to immobilize a layer of liquid water.
The idea of SLIPS has already led to surface coatings that can repel a range of substances such as ice, crude oil, and biological materials. Prof. Aizenberg says they are applying the concept of SLIPS to medical applications by fine-tuning the chemical and physical features of medical-grade materials and the infused lubricants.
SLIPS applications in medicine already include coatings that repel bacteria and blood from small medical implants and instruments.

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