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‘Sharkskin’ Surfaces Could Limit Hospital ‘Superbugs’

Microscopic bumps take the bite out of pathogens

The transmission of bacterial infections, including those caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA), could be curbed by coating hospital surfaces with microscopic bumps that mimic the scaly surface of sharkskin, according to research published in Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control.

The study modeled how well different materials prevented the spread of human disease bacteria through touching, sneezes, or spillage. The micropattern, called Sharklet, is an arrangement of ridges formulated to resemble sharkskin.

The study showed that Sharklet harbored 94% fewer MRSA bacteria compared with a smooth surface, and fared better than copper, a leading antimicrobial material. The bacteria were less able to attach to Sharklet’s imperceptibly textured surface, suggesting it could reduce the spread of “superbugs” in hospital settings.

The surfaces in hospitals and health care settings are often rife with bacteria, and patients are vulnerable to bacterial infection. Scientists are investigating the ability of different materials to prevent the spread of bacteria. Copper alloys are a popular option, as they are toxic to bacterial cells, interfering with their cellular processes and killing them. The Sharklet micropattern works differently — the size and composition of its microscopic features prevent bacteria from attaching to it. It mimics the unique qualities of sharkskin, which, unlike other underwater surfaces, inhibits bacteria because it is covered with a natural micropattern of tooth-like structures called denticles.

Researchers compared how well MRSA and MSSA fared at contaminating three surfaces: the Sharklet micropattern, a copper alloy, and a smooth control surface. The investigators created experimental procedures to mimic common ways by which bacteria infect surfaces. Sneezing was mimicked by using a paint sprayer to spread the bacterial solution on 10 samples of each surface. To mimic infected patients touching the surfaces, velveteen cloth was put in contact with bacteria for 10 seconds and then placed on another set of each test surface for 10 seconds. A third set of each surface was immersed in bacterial solution for an hour, then rinsed and dried, to mimic spills.

Surfaces were sampled for remaining contaminations either immediately after exposure to MSSA and MRSA or 90 minutes after being exposed. The Sharklet micropattern reduced the transmission of MSSA by 97% compared with the smooth control surface, and the copper alloy was no better than the control. The micropattern also harbored 94% fewer MRSA bacteria compared with the control surface, whereas the copper alloy had 80% fewer bacteria.

Sources: BioSpace; September 18, 2014; and ARIC Journal; September 17, 2014.

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