Winning the fight against biofilms: the first six-month study showing no biofilm formation on zwitterionic polyurethanes†
Biofilms have been a long-standing challenge for healthcare, water transport, and many other industries. They lead to bacterial growth and infections in animals, food products, and humans, cause premature removal of the implanted materials or devices from patients, and facilitate fouling and corrosion of metals. Despite some published and patented methods on minimizing the effects of biofilms for a short period (less than two weeks), there exists no successful means to mitigate or prevent the long-term formation of biofilms. It is even more challenging to integrate critical anti-fouling properties with other needed physical and chemical properties for a range of applications. In this study, we developed a novel approach for combining incompatible, highly polar anti-fouling groups with less polar, mechanically modifying groups into one material. A multifunctional carboxybetaine precursor was designed and introduced into polyurethane. The carboxybetaine precursors undergo rapid, self-catalyzed hydrolysis at the water/material interface and provide critical anti-fouling properties that lead to undetectable bacterial attachment and zero biofilm formation after six months of constant exposure to Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus epidermidis under the static condition in a nutrient-rich medium. This zwitterionic polyurethane is the first material to demonstrate both critical anti-biofilm properties and tunable mechanical properties and directly validates the unproven anti-fouling strategy and hypothesis for biofilm formation prevention. This approach of designing ‘multitasking materials’ will be useful for the development of next generation anti-fouling materials for a variety of applications.