Medical Devices and Healthcare IT

Insect wings inspire antibacterial medical implants

07 April 2020

Researchers from the University of Bristol have found a way to make stronger medical devices inspired by insect wings. Some insect wings have nanopillar structures that kill bacteria on contact. The mechanisms behind bacterial death have been unknown.

This is an E. coli bacteria lying on a bed of nano-nails. Source: Professor Bo Su, University of BristolThis is an E. coli bacteria lying on a bed of nano-nails. Source: Professor Bo Su, University of Bristol

The team identified new ways that nanopillars damage bacteria using a range of advanced imaging tools, functional assays and proteomic analysis. This aids the design of better antimicrobial surfaces for biomedical applications and enabling medical implants and devices to not rely on antibiotics.

In the insect world, current thinking believes that nanopillars kill bacteria by puncturing bacterial cells and results in lysis, but researchers have found that this is wrong. The antibacterial effects of nanopillars are multifactorial, nanotopography-dependent and species-dependent. The key to these properties is the cumulative effects of physical impendence and the induction of oxidative stress.

The team took this expanded understanding of nanopillar bacteria interactions into the design of improved biomaterials in the real world. The next step is to apply this understanding to the design and fabrication of nanopatterned surfaces with enhanced antimicrobial properties. They also want to investigate human stem cell response to nanopillars and develop cell instructive implants that can prevent bacterial infection and facilitate tissue growth.

A paper on this research was published in Nature Communications.

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