Shark skin inspires new product to fight infections

Global Business

Bacterial infections are a huge problem, particularly in medical settings like hospitals.

But one U.S. company, recently bought by a Chinese firm, has come up with a product that could provide a real answer. It all has to do with sharks. 

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

“I think we continue to learn a lot about sharks,” Ethan Mann, chief operating officer of Sharklet Technologies said. “Actually a really cool creature.”

Sharks are central to the company Mann helps run. Sharklet has developed a product that keeps harmful bacteria from spreading on medical equipment like urinary catheters and endotracheal tubes.

“Ultimately we can reduce the ability for those microbes to get from a place where they’re not causing a problem to a place where they ultimately cause a problem or make somebody sick,” Mann said.

Several years ago, a research scientist noticed that small nurse sharks were free of plants and algae, what’s called biofouling. He determined that the dermal denticles on shark skin were the reason. He found that incorporating the same microscopic patterns or textures found on sharks into medical devices kept microorganisms from gathering there.

“You can’t really feel that the texture is there but microbes certainly sense that it’s there and it impacts their ability to interact on the device,” Mann said.

According to Sharklet, more than 200 people a day die from healthcare-acquired infections in the U.S. 70 percent of those infections, the company claims, are preventable. Sharklet said data shows its surface technology reduces bacteria, helps wounds heal and is more effective than antibiotics. The Chinese medical device firm Peaceful Union bought Sharklet in May.

“Right now the hospital-acquired infections are a very, very big problem in China,” Binjie Xu, Sharklet’s director of Research said. “We’re heard a lot about this problem.”

The company believes this micro-pattern can work on consumer products as well.

“Anything that’s made of plastic, anything almost that’s manufactured you could conceivably impart Sharklet on,” Mann said.

It’s another example of biomimicry, using nature to help solve complex human problems. Sharklet could begin manufacturing its products in China in about a year and go to market another year after that.