Medical Devices

Texture of shark’s skin inspires a unique approach to bacteria control for healthcare

The insides of these fearsome fish may be harboring drug-resistant bacteria, but apparently, the outsides are doing just the opposite. And now a synthetic surface designed to mimic the bacterial-resistant properties of shark skin is making its way into medical devices and hospitals.

University of Florida researcher Anthony Brennan observed the antimicrobial properties of shark denticles about a decade ago while looking for ways to reduce the buildup of algae on submarines. He created a physical surface with microscopic patterns of ridges that mimicked the patterns found on shark skin, hoping it would inhibit microorganism growth without the use of antimicrobial agents. It’s more efficient to prevent bacteria and algae from growing, he proposed, than to try to kill it.

In the decade since his initial observation, the material has shown effectiveness against the growth and spread of bacteria, led to the formation of a company and is being applied to a variety of industries including healthcare.


In studies, the technology has inhibited the growth of E. coli by 80 percent over control surfaces and has also demonstrated effectiveness against Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, VRE and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, according to Sharklet Technologies, the Aurora, Colorado company working to commercialize the technology. Those and other bacteria are behind the 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections contracted each year in the U.S.

Sharklet just secured a new $2 million series B capital investment from Altria Ventures, which will take 12.5 percent stake in the company.

With the funding, the company says it will continue to develop the technology for medical devices. It’s already working with Cook Medical to apply its surface technology to Cook’s line of urology products and with LGInternational to commercialize adhesive covers for high-touch surfaces in hospitals.

The emergence of superbugs has driven the development of alternative methods for combating bacteria aside from antibiotics — with new vaccines, surface and device coatings, large-scale sterilization devices and hand-washing compliance technology.

Sharklet is also applying the technology to commercial products and boats.

Previous funding has come from a set of Small Business Innovation Research grants from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

[Photo by Parker Knight]

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