Laser technique modifies surfaces to prevent the spread of bacteria

Researchers are applying a laser technique to design nanostructured reliefs on surfaces so that they acquire antibacterial properties and are more resistant to the formation of bacterial biofilms.

Researchers at the Institute for Agrobiotechnology (Thermi, Greece)—an international research center involving the Public University of Navarre (Pamplona, Spain), the CSIC-National Scientific Research Council (Madrid, Spain), and the Government of Navarre—are applying a laser technique to design nanostructured reliefs on surfaces so that they acquire antibacterial properties and are more resistant to the formation of bacterial biofilms. The authors of the research say that in the preliminary tests carried out so far with the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, a 65 to 70 percent reduction has been confirmed in the adhesion of bacteria.

Apart from selecting the materials that best inhibit the adhesion of bacteria, the research is also looking into other aspects: The resistance to disinfectants of the bacteria adhered to nanostructured surfaces, how these surfaces retain their properties during prolonged use, and the behavior of the bacteria on the surface of biomaterials. Topographical patterns that encourage the adhesion of bacteria will also be identified.

The authors anticipate that the applications coming out of this research will have an impact on a broad field from surgical material treated in advance using lasers (prostheses, catheters) to water or aquaculture tanks with surfaces that prevent the adhesion of bacteria.

The Biofilms Microbianos research group of the Institute of Agrobiotechnology is working mainly with two bacteria: S. aureus and salmonella. Various lines of research focusing on the prevention or elimination of biofilms and ranging from the development of vaccines to research into biofilm dispersants, are being pursued in the laboratory, and right now, research is being done in this project to modify surfaces to prevent the formation of biofilm.

The laser technique, direct laser interference patterning (DLIP), interferes with and modifies a surface by using different laser beams on a nanometric scale, explains Jaione Valle-Turrillas, who led the work. DLIP enables different patterns and drawings at intervals ranging from nanometers to microns. "We’ve already tested different surfaces and have found a material and a pattern that will stop the bacteria from sticking to the surface; it does not eliminate them completely, but the reduction is between 65 and 70 percent," she says.

First a laser modifies the surface and then the bacteria are applied to see how they produce the biofilm and in what quantity. The researchers used various materials during the tests, allowing them to see how the number of bacteria and the production of biofilm diminish according to bacteria type and type of structure applied to the surface.

To quantify the reduction in the number of bacteria and the extent to which they remain adhered to the nanostructured surface, the researchers used a reagent (Alamar Blue), which emits fluorescence when it comes into contact with live bacteria. “This reaction is measured in a fluorometer so that the more bacteria there are, the greater the fluorescence that is produced,” explains Valle-Turrillas. "The problem is that this technique cannot differentiate when the adhesion differences are small. That is why we are now using another method: We collect all the bacteria that have stuck to the surface, we sow them in a culture medium, and count the number of colonies; it’s more laborious, but it's also much more reliable.”

The project, “Development and evaluation of antibacterial properties of surfaces with nanostructured reliefs generated by Direct Laser Interference Patterning (DLIP),” is scheduled to run for three years, and will conclude at the end of December 2013. It is being run in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology (Dresden, Germany), which has provided the laser technology to generate the reliefs on the surfaces. The total budget, funded by the Department of Innovation, Companies and Employment of the Government of Navarre, amounts to $219,931.

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