Killing 99.9 per cent of the germs could be unnecessary if there are no germs to start with. Scientists at the University of Sheffield used 3D printing technologies to create antimicrobial materials, and the results are “crystal clean”.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Candice Majewski has 3D-printed materials with antimicrobial properties, resulting in surfaces that prevent bacteria from attaching. Their research was published in January in Scientific Reports.

“Managing the spread of harmful bacteria, infection and the increasing resistance to antibiotics is a global concern. Introducing antibacterial protection to products and devices at the point of manufacture could be an essential tool in this fight,” said Dr Candice Majewski.

Dr Majewski’s words reflect the concerns shared by major institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the NHS, which promote citizens to act towards diminishing antibiotic resistance. The paper describes how to incorporate antimicrobial properties into 3D-printed parts using ‘laser sintering’ – a technology that “produces parts through scanning and melting polymer powders”. The team’s main approach was to mix antimicrobial powders with polymer ones, before printing the part.

The result is a resistant material to which bacteria cannot attach. Additionally, the scientists also showed that parts printed with this method are not toxic to human cells. Thus, it could be the ideal material for objects used within sensitive conditions, such as medical implants, door handles, and children’s toys. The surface’s antimicrobial nature also promotes hygiene and sanitation.

3D printing has been used in a wide range of markets. It can be used to customize running trainers, print tubes for Formula One cars and even produce textiles. Majewski’s research reinforces this technology’s versatility and presents an avid solution to lessen the spread of infections and consequently, antibiotic resistance.

Featured image: Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria on a Nylon-12 surface.

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