Researchers from RMIT University in Australia have developed a new superbug-destroying coating which could be used on wound dressings and implants to prevent and treat dangerous bacterial and fungal infections.
The new material is an ultra-thin 2D antimicrobial coating which has been shown to be effective against a broad range of drug resistant bacteria and fungal cells, however up till now it has only ever been of interest for next-generation electronics.
During their research the scientists discovered that the material, known as ‘black phosphorus’, has antibacterial and antifungal properties. When spread in nanothin layers on surfaces such as titanium and cotton, they found the substance is highly effective at killing microbes.
This was demonstrated by first author and PhD researcher Zo Shaw, who tested the effectiveness of nanothin layers of BP against five common bacteria strains. These included strains such as E. coli and drug-resistant MRSA, as well as five types of fungus, including the type Candida auris.
Incredibly, results showed in that just two hours, up to 99% of bacterial and fungal cells were destroyed, and more importantly the BP also began to self-degrade in that time and was entirely disintegrated within 24 hours – an important feature that shows the material would not accumulate in the body.
So, how does it work? The black phosphorus material works by oxidising the surface of bacteria and fungal cells as it breaks down. This process, known as cellular oxidisation, ultimately works to rip them apart.
“These pathogens are responsible for massive health burdens and as drug-resistance continues to grow, our ability to treat these infections becomes increasingly difficult,” Elbourne, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Science at RMIT, said.
“Our nanothin coating is a dual bug killer that works by tearing bacteria and fungal cells apart, something microbes will struggle to adapt to. It would take millions of years to naturally evolve new defences to such a lethal physical attack. While we need further research to be able to apply this technology in clinical settings, it’s an exciting new direction in the search for more effective ways to tackle this serious health challenge.”
Already the researchers have now begun experimenting with different formulations to test the efficacy on a range of medically-relevant surfaces and are keen to collaborate with potential industry partners to help further develop the technology.