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Nanotech Material Found Having Anti-Bacterial Properties

Maria Strømme

Maria Strømme (Uppsala University)

18 November 2016. A synthetic porous material developed to deliver drugs to the skin was shown in lab tests to prevent the growth of bacteria on its surfaces. The material known as Upsalite was developed in the nanotechnology lab of materials science and engineering professor Maria Strømme at Uppsala University in Sweden, which also conducted the study appearing this week in the journal ACS Omega.

A spin-off company from the university, Disruptive Materials AB, is commercializing Upsalite, where Strømme serves on the company’s board. Disruptive Materials markets Upsalite for drug delivery and dermatology applications, as well as for moisture absorption, filtration, and chemical processing.

Upsalite is a mesoporous material, where its pores range from 2 to 50 nanometers in diameter, from a synthesized magnesium carbonate compound. Because of its porosity, Upsalite has a large surface area giving it a high moisture absorption capacity. That property makes Upsalite useful with drug compounds having poor water solubility, thus promising for delivery of these drugs. Strømme’s lab first discovered Upsalite in 2013, and since showed the material to be well-tolerated by human skin.

In the new paper, Strømme and colleagues tested Upsalite’s effects on bacteria, in this case Staphylococcus epidermidis found on human skin. For most people, Staphylococcus epidermidis, or S. epidermidis, is a benign bacteria that causes no harm when in balance with other skin microbes. The most harmful condition most people will encounter from this bacteria is acne.

For individuals having weakened or compromised immune systems, however, S. epidermidis can cause serious complications, with infections sometimes arising in hospitals from infected devices such as catheters or artificial heart valves. Treatment options for these infections are limited, however, due to the appearance of resistant strains of the bacteria.

To test Upsalite’s effects of S. epidermidis, the researchers treated powder samples of Upsalite and three comparable materials — magnesium oxide, mesoporous silica, and basic magnesium carbonate — with resazurin, a fluorescent chemical that lights up when encountering metabolic activity of living organisms, such as bacteria. The team took measures of metabolic activity of these powders when exposed to S. epidermidis bacteria, as well as a saline solution that allowed bacteria to grow unchecked as a baseline.

The results show Upsalite stopped S. epidermidis bacteria from forming and growing almost immediately, which continued for 3 hours, comparable to magnesium oxide, but better than basic magnesium carbonate and mesoporous silica. The researchers attribute this bacteriostatic effect largely to Upsalite’s alkaline properties.

These and earlier results suggest Upsalite can be developed further into products worn or applied to the skin. “These newly found bacteriostatic properties,” says Strømme in a university statement, “combined with the ability to load and release molecules, for example fragrances from the pores in the material, are highly interesting for many applications.”

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