dna helix attacked by bacteria
dna helix attacked by bacteria

Radboud researchers discover novel antifouling material against bacterial infections

Bacterial infections are a significant concern in healthcare, as they lead to many serious diseases and health issues. Chemists from the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM) of Radboud University have developed a unique material that not only prevents bacteria from binding to surfaces but also kills any bacteria that overcomes this initial defense barrier. This helps the ongoing battle against bacterial threats in healthcare. The results have recently been published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Zwitterionic polymers are highly hydrophilic building blocks and play an effective role in the prevention of bacterial infections. To this end, zwitterionic polymers are frequently used in medical applications and nanotechnology where it is important to keep surfaces clean and prevent bacterial growth. Currently, there are two types of zwitterionic polymers: polybetaines and polyampholytes. Still, current materials suffer not only from insufficient antifouling performance but also from poor biocompatibility and stability. 

New material

In this study, the research team developed a new coating based on zwitterionic poly (sulfur ylides) which offers a powerful first defense by preventing bacteria from attaching to surfaces. Moreover, it has a built-in mechanism to kill any bacterial cells that make it past this initial barrier. Importantly, the material is completely safe for human cells. This precise combination of properties makes poly(sulfur ylides) a superior choice to polyethylene glycol for developing new materials that can prevent fouling. “What makes this discovery especially promising is its ability to effectively target bacterial cells while leaving human cells unharmed. This implies that the material has the potential to be used in various medical applications without posing any risk to patients”, researcher Kevin Neuman says.

Fight against bacteria

The discoveries will lay the foundation for exploring an entire new and unexplored class of zwitterionic polymers with antifouling properties.  Besides chemistry, neighboring fields such as biology and material science could benefit from such developments. “These findings hold promise for improving healthcare and have the potential to reduce the spread of infections in hospitals and clinics”, Bela Berking, another team member adds.

Systems Chemistry

Dr. Kevin Neumann is Assistant Professor in the Systems Chemistry group within the IMM. Neumann conducts research in the field of nanomedicine and polymer chemistry, focusing on innovative new principles for drug delivery and activation. His group employs principles from synthetic chemistry when designing new (bio)materials for medical applications. This study was done in collaboration with prof. Daniela A. Wilson who is the group leader of the systems chemistry department. The Systems Chemistry group aims to develop synthetic tools, materials, and systems to investigate emerging functions of self-assembled complex structures.

Literature reference

Antifouling and Bactericidal Materials
Bela B. Berking, Georgia Poulladofonou, Dimitrios Karagrigoriou, Prof. Dr. Daniela A. Wilson, Dr. Kevin Neumann
Angewandte Chemie (2023)


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Innovation, Molecules and materials, Nature, Science