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Near-Perfect Antibacterial Materials
April 1, 2015   
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Ruthless to bacteria, harmless to human cells—such are the new, durable antibacterial coatings from nanocomposites, developed at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physical Chemistry in Warsaw. In the future, these innovative materials help improve the hygiene of sportswear. They will also be used in medicine and will help reduce the number of infections and shorten the time of hospitalization for patients.

How can you speed up the process of wound healing? How do you shorten the minimum in-patient stay in hospitals, thus cutting the costs of healthcare? One method is to use the wound dressings with antibacterial coatings developed at the Institute of Physical Chemistry.

The new method for producing nanocomposite antibacterial coatings is universal and can be used to modify the surfaces of various materials. After modification, the materials exhibit excellent antiseptic properties, while remaining friendly to human cells. The coatings’ usefulness is not limited to medicine: they can also be used to improve the level of hygiene for everyday items of clothing such as socks, insoles, and sports underwear. They can also be used in the production of sportswear. One major advantage is that these nanocomposite coatings are produced in a fast and cost-effective process.

The new antibacterial coatings are produced in solutions of boron compounds containing colloidal nanoparticles of gold. After the introduction of the agent causing polymerization, gold nanocomposites are deposited on the surface of the object immersed in the colloid within a dozen or so minutes. The link with the substrate is chemical in nature, and thus permanent. Depending on the amount of the deposited nanocomposite, the modified materials can vary in color from light pink to violet to dark navy.

Although gold is an expensive material, its nanocomposite coatings are stable and do not undergo degradation when exposed to detergents during washing. Repeated laboratory tests of the antiseptic properties of the new coatings have been carried out with the use of E. coli and Staph. Aureusbacteria, meaning both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. The tests have shown that after 12 hours the number of both these types of bacteria decreased by 90 percent.
“Medicine is becoming increasingly effective by the day. However, despite this, problems with bacterial infections are common in clinical practice,” says Katarzyna Wybrańska, Ph.D., from the Institute of Physical Chemistry. “Patients with such complications usually require hospitalization for up to two weeks longer than normally. Not only do people suffer, but also the cost associated with hospitalization runs into thousands and millions of zlotys. Dressings with our coatings could significantly reduce these problems.”

What surprised researchers working on the new antibacterial coatings most was that these coatings turned out to be harmless to human cells. This feature stems from the fact that, in contrast to other similar antibacterial applications, such as impregnation with silver nanoparticles, the antibacterial effect of the new coatings does not involve the release of toxic substances, but is based on the direct contact of bacteria with the modified surface. The nanocomposite itself is not released from the material or the dressing, so its antibacterial effect can last longer without harming the human body. Many months of tests with the gold nanocomposite coatings, conducted on four human cell lines, have shown no harmful effects.

“Usually, what is toxic to bacteria is also harmful to us,” says Wybrańska. “Meanwhile, our nanocomposites are very friendly to human cells.”
The unique properties of the new coatings are expected to pave the way to interesting applications. The institute’s Marcin Fiałkowski, Ph.D., observes, “There is a huge demand for biomedical products with proven antiseptic properties and a lack of toxicity to human cells. Therefore, we are thinking of using our nanocomposites in the production of hydrogel dressings. Another potential area of application is related to special scaffolds used for cell and tissue culture.”

The institute’s researchers have submitted several patent applications for their antimicrobial coatings of gold nanocomposites. Research on the coatings, carried out in cooperation with the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, was financed with a grant from the Foundation for Polish Science’s TEAM program. Work on commercial applications of the coatings is in progress as part of the foundation’s IMPULS program.
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