Researchers at the University of Georgia have developed a new graphene-enhanced foam material that could significantly reduce health care-related infections caused by implanted medical devices, as well as drastically improve cleanup efforts following environmental disasters, such as oil spills.
The 3D foam is water repellent and exhibits antimicrobial and oil-water separation properties. Its versatility and relatively inexpensive production costs could make it a valuable resource for clinicians and those specializing in environmental remediation.
The material is a coarse foam with two fillers—hydrophobic electrically conductive graphene nanoplatelets and hydrophobic bactericidal copper microparticles.
According to the study, the team used E. coli as a test bacterium and found that the material resulted in a 99.9% bacterial reduction over a simple polymer. This high performance could improve the health outcomes for many of the many patients who experience health care-related infections from medical implants.
“Current medical devices are prone to contamination,” said study author Hitesh Handa, associate professor at the University of Georgia. “When you put any medical device into the body, proteins are the first thing to stick to a surface, and they act like a glue that allows blood or bacteria to adhere. So, if we can stop the protein adsorption, half the battle is won.”
For environmental testing applications, researchers placed a 3D sponge made of the foam into various water mixtures, including chloroform, hydrochloric acid and other organic particles. The foam absorbed and removed the organic pollutants from the water, while also killing bacteria in the water itself. With its high capacity for separating water and other oil-based pollutants, at scale, the material could prove impactful in environmental cleanup from oil spills or other similar scenarios.
The researchers plan to apply the surface to medical devices and demonstrate its effectiveness before moving on to non-human animal trials and, eventually, testing in humans.