Ben-Gurion researchers not afraid to clean up the slime
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Ben-Gurion researchers not afraid to clean up the slime

New study shows nano-engineered metals could stop the formation of biofilm on metal surfaces, prevent contamination

In this image, the untreated control surface shows  dense bacteria colonization (above), while the bottom area shows how the Cu-MCF coating prevents formation of biofilm. (Courtesy)
In this image, the untreated control surface shows dense bacteria colonization (above), while the bottom area shows how the Cu-MCF coating prevents formation of biofilm. (Courtesy)

Biofilm — otherwise known as slime — is the bane of existence for anyone who likes to keep things clean and sanitary. To get rid of slime in the kitchen, a good cleanser and a rag will usually do the trick. But in the body, biofilm colonies aren’t as easy to clean up — titanium implants in the mouth or other parts of the body that are used to replace bones or other components can “slime up” and become contaminated.

To remove them, a doctor must swab them down with cleanser (if the component can be reached), or treat them with antibiotics. Sometimes, such as in the case of severe infection in a patient who has had a titanium component inserted inside the body, more surgery may be needed to remove, clean up and reinsert the part.

But if researchers at Ben-Gurion University are right, patients may no longer have to contend with biofilm contamination.

In a study in the March edition of Advanced Materials Interfaces, researchers from the university’s Department of Biotechnology Engineering describe promising techniques they have been working on to prevent biofilm formation – specifically, a coating made of nano-engineered metal that research indicates has a deleterious effect on biofilm, keeping the bacteria that form slime from making a home for itself on metal components.

Biofilms form when bacteria gets together with water, which provides them with an environment that lets them stick to a surface.

The technology will also be helpful for industry, such as in food processing plants, ocean-going vessels, bridges – anyplace that bacteria comes into contact with water, and creates a potentially damaging biofilm that can cause disease, rust, or other deterioration.

According to the researchers, their solution addresses a “pervasive need to design environmentally friendly materials to impede dangerous surface bacteria growth.” This holds tremendous potential for averting biofilm formed by surface-anchored bacteria and could have a tremendous impact.

When bacteria meets metal and water, it tends to “settle in,” research shows. Like humans, bacteria tend to form communities as a survival strategy. Genetically driven, the bacteria go through an ordered process when colonizing a surface – from initial attachment through irreversible attachment (where the bacteria firmly establishes itself and adheres to each other, creating the film) to dispersal, where the film sends out agents to neighboring surfaces and colonizes them as well.

As the colonization continues, bacteria multiply and grow in number, and in strength, making slime colonies more resistant to antibiotics or other formulas used to destroy them.

Research has shown that certain materials, such as metal complex films (MCFs) that are thin, nano-sized metal films with certain chemical treatments, tend to prevent the formation of biofilms, but few in-depth studies of this phenomena have yet been done. The Ben-Gurion researchers examined various materials, including Zn-MCF and Cu-MCF – and found success with the latter.

“Cu-MCF complexes fabricated with thermal and pressure stability to prevent metal ion leakage hold promise for a broad spectrum of industrial and medical anti-biofilm applications,” the researchers said.

The presence of Cu-MCF on surfaces “is yet unproven,” the study said. Nonetheless, the researchers are very optimistic about the future of this technology.

“The anti-adhesive could be used on medical implants, devices and surgical equipment where bacteria can contribute to chronic diseases, resist antibiotic treatment and thereby compromise the body’s defense system,” the researchers said.

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