Healthcare News & Insights

Your hospital’s infection control efforts may get a boost from shark skin

Hospitals may be able to take a bite out of their infection rates with a new material based on shark skin.

187114095Shark skin itself has certain natural properties that keep other creatures of the sea from attaching to its surface, including a fairly rough texture. The skin is covered in scales resembling teeth — called denticles — that repel bacteria.

Inspired by the natural texture of shark skin, one researcher, Dr. Ethan Mann, attempted to create a similar material that could be used in a hospital setting to stop the spread of germs.

The result: a synthetic material with microscopic bumps mimicking the denticles on sharks’ skin, which Dr. Mann called Sharklet.

In an experiment detailed in the Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control journal and described in a press release on Science Daily, researchers tested this synthetic shark skin against two other surfaces – a standard smooth surface found in most hospital rooms and a copper surface, since copper has been touted as the newest material to fight infections in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

The experiment tested the ability of each surface to stop the spread of bacteria in different situations, such as if someone touched a surface or if someone sneezed in the hospital room.

Specifically, researchers looked at the surfaces’ reaction to methicillin-resistant or susceptible Staphyloccocus aureus (MRSA and MSSA) bacteria.

After each simulation, the three surfaces were tested both immediately following exposure to MRSA and MSSA, and 90 minutes later.

Once the results were tallied, the Sharklet surface reduced transmission of MSSA by 97% compared to the control surface and the copper surface. With MRSA, the synthetic shark-skin material contained 94% less bacteria than the control, while the copper surface contained 80% less bacteria.

Future use for ‘shark-skin’ surfaces

Ideally, the Sharklet pattern wouldn’t simply be used as a coating on top of existing surfaces to stop the spread of infection-causing bacteria.

Rather, just like copper, the material would be used to create certain hospital fixtures and equipment with stronger antimicrobial properties. One way this material may be used in the future is in the production of catheter lines, since infection rates due to catheters are high.

Researchers cautioned that no product or material will serve as a substitute for encouraging clinical staff to follow best practices for hygiene, including frequent hand washing. But the use of synthetic shark skin could further reduce the likelihood of germ transmission.

That means it could be worthwhile to see if a synthetic shark-skin material would be a viable addition to your hospital’s infection control efforts down the line.

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