Monday, February 07, 2011

Can Shark Skin Lead To Revolutionary Breakthrough in Infection Control?

Scientists have long wondered how exactly sharks were able to avoid having all manner of skin infections - whether it was marine growths like barnacles or bacterial infections.

Well, it turns out that sharks' abilities to resist those kinds of infections may have something to do with the shape of the skin cells that cover their entire body. This has tremendous repercussions for naval builders - including the US Navy and shipping industry, that spend billions annually cleaning and attempting to prevent the buildup of marine growths on ships that reduce their speed and efficiency. More profound is that the discovery may lead to a revolution in infection control
Patented by Sharklet Technologies, a Florida-based biotech company, the film, which is covered with microscopic diamond-shaped bumps, is the first “surface topography” proven to keep the bugs at bay. In tests in a California hospital, for three weeks the plastic sheeting’s surface prevented dangerous microorganisms, such as E. coli and Staphylococcus A, from establishing colonies large enough to infect humans. Bacteria have an easier time spreading out on smooth surfaces, says CEO Joe Bagan: “We think they come across this surface and make an energy-based decision that this is not the right place to form a colony.” Because it doesn’t kill the bacteria, there’s also little chance of the microbes evolving resistance to it. Hey, it’s worked for sharks for 400 million years.
Sharklet is looking to exploit not only their knowledge for naval shipbuilders like the US Navy, but the medical advances that could help reduce the spread of infections in hospitals and the reliance on chemicals and antibiotics for infection control.

The company is looking at developing a wide range of thin films that could be affixed to heavy-traffic areas to reduce the spread of bacterial infections. Everything from medical devices to hospital bed railings or elevator controls could be treated with the film, reducing the spread of bacterial infections, with the possibility of a major savings on health care costs from infection control.

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