Fabricating a New Composite Material with Antimicrobial Properties

A new method for employing 3D printing to generate infection-fighting materials for use as medical implants were described in a new research paper.

An impression of bacteria being destroyed by the new ferroelectric composite material. Image Credit: University of Bath.

Engineers at the University of Bath, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Ulster, have successfully manufactured a new type of ferroelectric composite material with antimicrobial properties for the first time using a revolutionary multi-material 3D printing process.

According to the researchers, using electrically responsive ferroelectric materials provides the implants with infection-fighting capabilities, making them appropriate for biomedical applications like heart valves, stents, and bone implants, lowering the risk of infection for patients.

Despite their widespread use, all biomedical implants provide some amount of risk because materials can harbor surface bio-contaminants that can cause infection. Reducing this risk may benefit patients and healthcare providers through improved results and lower costs associated with continuous therapy.

This 3D printing approach has previously been utilized by the team to create three-dimensional scaffolds for bone tissue engineering.

The study’s lead author is Dr. Hamideh Khanbareh, a Lecturer in materials and structures at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath. She claims that the development has the potential for many applications.

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, Lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Bath

The breakthrough is made possible by ferroelectricity, a property of certain polar materials that generates an electrical surface charge in reaction to a change in mechanical energy or temperature. This electrical charge causes the creation of free radicals known as reactive oxygen species (ROS) in ferroelectric films and implants, which preferentially eliminate bacteria.

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

The composite material utilized to harness this phenomenon is manufactured by embedding ferroelectric barium calcium zirconate titanate (BCZT) micro-particles in polycaprolactone (PCL), a biodegradable polymer commonly used in biomedical applications.

The ferroelectric particles and polymer mixture are then fed through a 3D bioprinter to construct a precise porous “scaffold” shape designed to have a high surface area to enhance ROS generation.

Even when infected with large concentrations of aggressive E. coli bacteria, testing revealed that the composite could totally eliminate the bacterial cells without external intervention, eliminating 70% in just 15 minutes.

Journal Reference:

Tsikriteas, Z. M., et al. (2023). Additively Manufactured Ferroelectric Particulate Composites for Antimicrobial Applications. Advanced Materials Technologies. doi.org/10.1002/admt.202202127.

Source: https://www.bath.ac.uk

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