Future Hospitals May Be Covered In ‘Shark Skin’

Hospitals of the future may defend themselves from superbugs with a new technology that resembles the texture of a shark’s skin.

Roughing up surfaces so that they resemble a shark’s skin can prevent them from harboring a staggering amount of microbial organisms, according to scientists working on the material. As Yahoo News notes, the micropattern arrangement, which is patented, was 94 percent less likely to be colonized by the MRSA superbug. The texture, named sharklet, also fared better in tests than copper, a leading anti-microbial material.

Shark skin isn’t anti-microbial in its own right, but rather is covered with tiny ridges that appear flat to the eye. This surface prevents barnacles and other organisms from attaching to the shark, as The Washington Post points out. It is this characteristic that is harnessed in the manufacture of sharklet.

A new study published in the journal Antimicrobial Resistance & Infection Control details the effectiveness of sharklet. While the material is less likely to be colonized by superbugs, it also doesn’t kill them. Copper does prove fatal to microbes, potentially leading to the evolution of stronger strains which can thrive even in hostile environments. The downside, however, is that the shark skin-inspired material isn’t lowering the number of dangerous microbes in a hospital, just keeping them off of certain surfaces.

Dr Ethan Mann, a research scientist with Sharklet Technologies, explained exactly how the innovation works.

“The Sharklet texture is designed to be manufactured directly into the surfaces of plastic products that surround patients in hospital, including environmental surfaces as well as medical devices,” he said. “Sharklet does not introduce new materials or coatings – it simply alters the shape and texture of existing materials to create surface properties that are unfavorable for bacterial contamination.”

The technology mimics denticles, a part of a shark’s skin that consist of tiny, tooth-like structures. According to Dr. Mann, a variety of tests designed to simulate hospital conditions revealed that sharklet significantly reduced transmission rates.

“Shark skin has a specific roughness and certain properties that deter marine organisms from attaching to the skin surface. We have learned much from nature in building this material texture for the future.”

With the advent of microbes that are increasingly resistant to treatment, prevention of transmission has become paramount. As the Inquisitr previously noted, a mysterious respiratory illness struck the Denver metro area in late August, spreading so quickly that it surprised doctors.

The shark skin technology is available to hospitals for a variety of applications.

[Image via ScienceBlogs]