New multi-material 3D printing technique gives materials antimicrobial properties, with scope to improve safety of implants including heart valves and stents

A joint team of engineers from the University of Bath and the University of Ulster have developed a ferroelectric composite material with antimicrobial properties using multi-material 3D printing.

Designed for biomedical applications, such as heart valves, stents, and bone implants, this type of materials would give the implants the infection-fighting properties, reducing this way the risk of infection for patients.

The reality is, all biomedical implants pose some level of risk as materials can carry surface bio-contaminants that can lead to infection. Reducing this risk could be beneficial both to patients in the form of improved outcomes, and to healthcare providers thanks to reduced costs incurred by ongoing treatment.

Biomedical implants that can fight infection or dangerous bacteria such as E. coli could present significant benefits to patients and to healthcare providers. Our research indicates that the ferroelectric composite materials we have created have a great potential as antimicrobial materials and surfaces. This is a potentially game-changing development that we would be keen to develop further through collaboration with medical researchers or healthcare providers”, Dr Hamideh Khanbareh, lead author of the research said.

A development enabled by ferroelectricity

 Ferroelectricity is a characteristic of certain polar materials that generate electrical surface charge in response to a change in mechanical energy or temperature. In ferroelectric films and implants, this electrical charge leads to the formation of free radicals known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), which selectively eradicate bacteria.

This comes about through the micro-electrolysis of water molecules on a surface of polarised ferroelectric composite material.

The composite material used to harness this phenomenon is made by embedding ferroelectric barium calcium zirconate titanate (BCZT) micro-particles in polycaprolactone (PCL) a biodegradable polymer widely used in biomedical applications. The mixture of the ferroelectric particles and polymer is then fed into a 3D bioprinter to create a specific porous ‘scaffold’ shape designed to have a high surface area to promote ROS formation.

Testing showed that even when contaminated with high concentrations of aggressive E. coli bacteria, the composite can completely eradicate the bacteria cells without external intervention, killing 70% within just 15 minutes.

The whole research can be found here.

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