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Smart surfaces to tackle biofilms and antibacterial resistance

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers antimicrobial resistance (AMR) one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and economic development. Preventing microbial growth is critical in restricting the emergence and spread of AMR. Researchers at the University of Liverpool, in collaboration with industrial partners, are developing advanced, next-generation antimicrobial surfaces to address this global problem.

The challenge

Microbial activity causes biofilms to accumulate on surfaces – the plaque on your teeth is a type of bacterial biofilm. But they are not always so benign, and UK industry loses billions of pounds every year due to product contamination, energy losses and equipment damage from biofilms. Affected sectors include everything from healthcare and medical devices to food, water, and the chemical and petroleum industries.

Professor Rasmita Raval’s team at the University of Liverpool is addressing the issue by developing smart surfaces that will allow better microbial control across the industries and sectors suffering from the problems associated with microbial growth.

Research action

The Open Innovation Hub for Antimicrobial Surfaces (OPIHAS) led by Raval provides leading capabilities in the design and engineering of next-generation antimicrobial surfaces and materials, combined with characterisation from the nanoscale upwards. State-of-the-art surface imaging and spectroscopic equipment, from atomic force microscopes to Raman spectroscopy, are combined with advanced bioimaging and microbiology techniques to evaluate antimicrobial performance from the single cell to the population level.

Across a range of materials including ceramics, metals and polymers there is a strong focus on technologies to prevent, control and manage biofilms, and developing smart materials that target or trigger specific chemical responses that mitigate the threat of AMR.

Working in partnerships

OPIHAS brings together academic, clinical and industrial partners for accelerated translation of research into industrial innovation and end use. The Hub is actively working on innovative antimicrobial and anti-biofilm products via collaborative R&D projects involving multinationals and SMEs in a number of sectors. The portfolio of EU and Innovate UK projects range from proof-of-concept through to Translation (TRL) 6/7 levels.

Raval is also a co-founder and academic co-director for the recently established National Biofilm Innovation Centre, a £26M UK Innovation and Knowledge Centre funded by the BBSRC, Innovate UK, Industry and the Hartree Centre.

Outputs and outcomes

The team has worked with market leading companies including Boots UK Ltd, De Puy Synthes, Smith & Nephew, Ansell, Akzo Nobel, Croda and SMEs alongside NHS partners to develop a wide range of antimicrobial technologies. This innovation activity has led to intellectual property (IP), patents and a number of products progressing towards real-world users.

Researchers at Liverpool are collaborating to tackle the global threat of AMR by developing next-generation antimicrobial surfaces to combat damaging bacterial biofilms.

Professor Rasmita Raval

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