I am working for a small start up company called Sharklet Technologies, Inc. located here in Denver, CO, and we are engineering a novel "bacteria-repelling" surface topography that mimics shark skin:
The founder of the company, Dr. Tony Brennan, made the realization that shark skin does not accumulate barnacles or algae and he wondered if it was the structure that prevents microbial attachment. He began engineering a mimic of the pattern into many types of materials and low and behold it worked! The presence of the micro-pattern alone inhibits bacterial attachment and survival up to 99% in some instances. An example of S. aureus attachment to smooth surfaces (left) and Sharklet surfaces (right) over 21 days is shown below (figure from Chung 2007, Biointerphases 2(2): 89-94).
The really exciting aspect to the technology is that it does not contain any antimicrobials and thus shouldn't contribute to the rising problem of antimicrobial resistance!! It just passively prevents bacteria from attaching to surfaces without actively killing them.
Research into this technology began in order to provide the Navy with new surface coatings for ships that they could use in place of the toxic and environmentally unfriendly paint they currently use. Since then, we have moved into the field of medical devices and the healthcare industry as a whole in the hopes to prevent hospital acquired infections. We are currently working to understand how the pattern resists attachment and also which areas (or devices) we should apply the Sharklet micro-pattern to. We are selling surface laminate kits that can be applied to hospital doors, bed rails, nurse call buttons, etc. AND we got an amazing score (but are still waiting on the $$...friggin congress and their inability to pass a final budget...grrr...) on a Phase II SBIR grant to develop a Sharklet Foley catheter with the aim of reducing urinary tract infections (which is a HUGE problem in hospitals...they kill patients and prolong hospital stays thereby decreasing patient care and increasing hospital costs).
If you are interested...visit our website and take a gander at the publications on our technology.
In the meantime, watch us on this clip from the PBS - NOVA show "Making stuff Smarter" that aired on Wednesday, February 9th 2011: