Harvard researchers have demonstrated a repellent surface technology that can be used with medical materials to prevent infections caused by biofilms.

The “liquid-infused polymers” leverage the molecular structure of polymers, which makes them highly capable of taking up and storing considerable volumes of lubricating liquids in their molecular structure, like sponges.

A large reservoir of lubricant can then render a surface continuously slippery and repellent — creating an environment that challenges bacteria’s ability to colonize.

The team's solid silicone tubing is saturated with silicone oil. The oil continuously diffuses to the surface, replenishing itself to replace any oil that is pulled away by liquids flowing against it, such as urine, blood, or gastro-intestinal fluids.

To test the liquid-infused polymer’s effectiveness in biofilm prevention, the study’s lead author Noah MacCallum, an exchange undergraduate student at SEAS, exposed treated and untreated medical tubing to Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus epidermidis, which are common pathogenic bacteria that form biofilms and are frequent culprits of urinary, tissue, and blood infections. The experiment confirmed that the liquid-infused polymer tubing greatly reduced bacterial adhesion and largely eliminated biofilm formation.

The new approach could be leveraged to prevent bacterial infections associated with the biofilm formation on catheters and other medical devices.