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May 16, 2023

Smart Surgical Implant Coatings

Engineers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have developed an antimicrobial smart polymer that monitors orthopedic implants while killing bacteria.

Credit: U.S. National Science Foundation

Medical advances have greatly improved the lives of countless individuals, but complications can still arise with the use of orthopedic implants. Infection and device failure are just some of the long-term problems that can occur, and with an aging population set to double by 2050, we need innovative solutions more than ever.

Imagine if we could monitor the stress on a device and prevent the presence of infection at the same time. What if an insect-inspired innovation could provide us with a groundbreaking biomedical solution? We'll explore medical innovation in the U.S. National Science Foundation's "Discovery Files."

Researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, supported by NSF, have taken inspiration from cicadas and dragonflies to create a smart-polymer foil that is covered with nanoscale pillars. As bacteria attempt to bind to the foil, the pillars puncture the cell walls, killing the bacteria.

At the same time, the foil is integrated with highly sensitive flexible sensors that can monitor strain when attached to commercial biomedical devices. This means that physicians can watch the healing progress of patients and allow for a shortened recovery period while minimizing risk. The sensors also notify physicians of any negative developments in the devices.

While many solutions to infection have been attempted around the world, this insect-inspired innovation offers an exciting new approach. By fundamentally enabling improvements in orthopedic implants, this technology raises standards of care and contributes to better patient outcomes. This is a significant step towards better solutions for an ageing population.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.

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