Stopping superbugs with a protective coat

By Chris Still

15 August 2016

Bacterium close up.

Bacteria close up.

Around the world 700,000 people die of drug resistant infections a year, and that figure could rise to 10 million a year by 2050. The resulting financial cost is predicted to reach $100 trillion USD. It’s a global problem with no easy solution –  but Dr Berkay Ozcelik is working on it.

A Postdoctoral Fellow in our Manufacturing business unit, Berkay’s research has taken him from potentially restoring sight to millions of people, to working on a way to save millions of lives.

While a student at University of Melbourne, Berkay developed a special film that may help repair damaged corneas and reduce the need for donors. As a result he was named the 2016 Victorian winner of the “Fresh Science” program to promote research and discovery. Now with CSIRO, Berkay continues to work on ways to improve medical science, focussing on preventing infections resulting from medical device use.

One solution to reduce the emergence of “superbugs” is to minimise antibiotic use by preventing bacterial infections associated with medical devices from occurring in the first place.

Enter Dr Ozcelik. By incorporating multiple defence mechanisms, he’s developed a polymer based coating for implantable medical devices that prevent bacteria from sticking to the surface and forming into a biofilm antibiotics can’t penetrate.

“Modern medical science uses implantable devices including catheters, endotracheal tubes, and device drivelines,” says Berkay.

“They help in the treatment and recovery of patients and save countless lives but as they enter the body, their surfaces can also serve as a platform for bacteria to grow and infect the patient.”

“Our novel polymer coating provides multiple layers of defence to stop this. Tests have shown it reduces bacterial colonisation on surfaces by more than 99 per cent.”

This polymer coating has been specially designed using biocompatible polymers, and synthetic peptides that stops bacterial cells but doesn’t harm human cells or blood. Unlike other coating methods currently available, Berkay’s doesn’t involve several complex steps, an oxygen free environment or toxic solvents to bond.

“It’s a one step process using commercially available precursors”, Berkay said. “It’s as simple as spraying or otherwise applying the coating on medical equipment, then letting it dry. That’s it. You shouldn’t have to reapply the coating at all.”

Here is a short video of Berkay explaining his work:

To find out more about our work in this field, you can check out our website.