Consortium Learns from Nature to Produce New Chemical-Free, Antibacterial Plastic 'Skins'

Five new U.S., European and Japanese companies join A*STARs Industrial Consortium On Nanoimprint (ICON) to engineer marine life-inspired antimicrobial surfaces for use on medical devices and other industry applications. The technology will also be seeded at three participating local polytechnics.

Taking a cue from animals like dolphins and pilot whales that are known to have anti-fouling skins, researchers from A*STARs Industrial Consortium On Nanoimprint (ICON) are using nanotechnology to create synthetic, chemical-free, antibacterial surfaces. The surfaces can reduce infections caused by pathogens such as S. aureus and E. coli and can be used on common plastics, medical devices, lenses and even ship hulls. Conventional methods for preventing bacterial surface attachment may use potentially harmful metal ions, nanoparticles, chemicals or UV-radiation.

Nanoimprint technology, a form of nanotechnology, is a simple technique that has been developed by IMRE to make complex nanometer-sized patterns on surfaces to mimic the texture of natural surfaces. This gives the engineered material natural properties such as luminescence, adhesiveness, water-proofing and anti-reflectivity.

The antibacterial surfaces research is ICONs second industry-themed project and will involve A*STARs Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) and companies like Nypro Inc (U.S.), Hoya Corporation (Japan), Advanced Technologies and Regenerative Medicine, LLC (ATRM) (USA), NIL Technology ApS (Denmark) and Akzo Nobel (UK). This is also the first time that 3 local polytechnics, namely Singapore Polytechnic, Temasek Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic are working with the consortium partners, under a special arrangement.

"With millions of years of experience behind her, nature has produced some of the most rugged, adaptable life forms. Who better to learn engineering from than Mother Nature?" said Dr. Low Hong Yee, IMREs director for research and innovation and head of the consortium. She added that the antimicrobial surfaces project will demonstrate the versatility of nanoimprinting technology and its benefits to a wide range of industries.

"The strong support given by industry to this second project and to the consortium is a resounding seal of approval of the research, the talent expertise, the technology and its real-world applications", said Andy Hor, executive director of IMRE.

Dr. Raj Thampuran, A*STAR Science and Engineering Research Councils (SERC) executive director added, "Working closely with companies ensures that our R&D and expertise is translated at the earliest possible time and contributes value to the economy. Borrowing intimately from characteristics in nature represents some of the most frontier and innovative ideas in science and engineering. I am pleased that IMRE's research will help companies challenge difficult engineering problems".

"ICON and nanoimprint research gives our own R&D an added dimension and provides us with alternative options on how our existing technology can be applied", said Steve Ferriday, technical manager, Worldwide Marine Foul Release, International Paint Ltd (UK), which is part of Akzo Nobel, the worlds largest global paints and coatings company. The company recently established their worldwide marine research laboratory in Singapore and is keen to explore how these surfaces might work in a marine environment.

"Chemical additives in biomedical devices can adversely affect different users in different ways. The antimicrobial surfaces derived from nanoimprint technology without the need for additional chemicals and coatings may offer us an alternative solution to this issue", said Tsuyoshi Watanabe, general manager, R&D Center of Hoya Corporation, a Japanese-based company dealing in advanced electronics and optics technologies. The company has a plant in Singapore producing implanted lenses for the eye.

"Nypro is excited to be a part of this second project. Our participation in such a world class collaborative programme gives Nypro a competitive advantage in bringing innovation to our customers", commented Michael McGee, director of technology from Nypro Inc., a leading global solutions provider in the field of manufactured precision plastic products.

"This collaboration will enable the R&D partners to leverage on their areas of expertise to investigate how bacteria attach to specially designed surfaces of different materials. The industrial applications are tremendous and Ngee Ann Polytechnic is excited to be part of the team. Our student interns from various courses at the School of Life Sciences & Chemical Technology will also benefit from working on projects under the supervision of top researchers," said Tang-Lim Guek Im, senior director for technology collaboration at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore.

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