Sharklet is a specially patterned surface designed to be inhospitable to harmful bacteria.
Not all medical advances are discovered in laboratories or manufacturing facilities—at least one was discovered at sea. Sharklet Technologies has introduced a surface technology that features a pattern inspired by shark skin, and is designed to be inhospitable to bacteria.
Tapped by the U.S. Navy, Anthony Brennan, professor of engineering at the University of Florida, endeavored to shed light on microorganisms that were colonizing on the surfaces of ship hulls and causing expensive damage. During his investigation, Brennan noticed that unlike most slow-moving sea animals, some shark species remain clean of barnacles and algae. He concluded that the topography of the sharks’ skin offers resistance to parasitic organisms. Applying this mechanical principle, Brennan and his team invented a solution to help reduce the costs associated with ship fouling.
With Sharklet, Brennan’s discovery has come ashore. Sharklet is an engineered surface designed to ward off harmful microorganisms—not from ships, but from medical devices. “It’s the first nontoxic, long-lasting, and no-kill surface to control the growth of harmful microorganisms,” says Mark Spiecker, vice president of operations.
Specifically targeting the detrimental microbes is the key. Some microorganisms are harmless or are even beneficial, while others can accumulate and form biofilms that attack living cells and can cause patient infections. Since the two types live side by side, an ideal defense against destructive microbes would not impede the growth of beneficial ones, unlike many common disinfectants. Also used to combat biofilms, traditional antibiotics yield mixed results, and continual use can lead to bacterial resistance.
Sharklet represents the best solution yet available, according to the supplier.The Sharklet pattern consists of billions of tiny raised features arranged in diamond shapes. Each diamond measures 25 µm across and contains seven raised ribs of varying lengths. The surface’s tortuosity has been engineered for better control of settling microorganisms, and surface energy has been calibrated to affect the adhesion strength of microbes on the surface. Active agents can be surface-grafted to produce additional bioresponses.
In-house tests have shown that Sharklet is effective at inhibiting biofilm formation for up to 21 days. In contrast, formation on common biomaterial surfaces can occur within several hours. “It’s important to note that these results came from laboratory tests using petri dishes,” Brennan notes. “The surface is potentially capable of delaying [biofilm] formation in clinical settings indefinitely.”
Sharklet can be applied directly to the surface of catheters, patient monitors, and other medical products.
Sharklet Technologies, Alachua, FL