Research Highlight

Polymers kill biofilm-forming bacteria

doi:10.1038/nindia.2016.6 Published online 19 January 2016

Researchers have found that maleic-anhydride-based polymers can stifle the growth of several disease-causing bacteria, including one that forms biofilms on medical devices1. These polymers could potentially be used as biomaterials to sterilize the surfaces of biomedical devices and treat burn wound infections.

Bacteria such as Acinetobacter baumannii colonize and form biofilms on biomedical devices such as catheters, pacemakers and orthopaedic implants. These biofilm-forming bacteria cause burn wound infections and are developing resistance to conventional antibiotics.

To devise a way to annihilate biofilm-forming bacteria, the researchers synthesized four maleic-anhydride-based polymers. They then probed their efficiencies to inhibit the growth of A. baumannii.

The polymers displayed potent antibacterial activity against A. baumannii, including multidrug-resistant strains isolated from patients. In addition, the polymers showed excellent antibacterial activities against drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Enterococcus faecium.

The scientists found that the polymers killed the biofilm-forming bacteria more efficiently than conventional antibiotics such as erythromycin, tobramycin and colistin. In mice, the polymers also alleviated burn wound infections caused by A. baumannii without the development of bacterial resistance.

The polymers killed bacteria by disrupting their membrane potential. This suggests that they could be used to thwart hospital-borne burn wound infections, the researchers say.


1. Uppu, D. S. S. M. et al. Amide side chain amphiphilic polymers disrupt surface established bacterial bio-films and protect mice from chronic Acinetobacter baumannii infection. Biomaterials 74, 131−143 (2016)