At this week’s AVS 57th International Symposium & Exhibition in Albuquerque, New Mexico, researchers from two different research institutes presented new types of antibacterial materials. One could allow users to kill bacteria by simply flipping on the overhead lights, while another does so by combining modern technology with ancient medicine.

Light-activated plastic

A representative from the University of New Mexico presented her teams’ findings on using a new polymer, “conjugated polyelectrolyte (CPE) with an arylene-ethynylene repeat-unit structure,” to kill antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria – S. aureus is responsible for about 19,000 deaths every year in the U.S. alone.

Although CPE does have antibacterial qualities, the researchers found that some types of the polymer are inert towards bacteria in the dark, thus allowing for the possibility of CPE-coated countertops that could be sterilized simply by turning on regular fluorescent room lights. Although it was previously not known if CPEs were harmful to the cells of people or animals, in-vitro testing has so far indicated that they are safe.

A coating that won’t wear off

Findings from the University of South Australia were also shared regarding research into getting antibacterial substances to adhere to medical devices. Antibacterials generally don’t stick well to smooth surfaces on their own, but some polymers do. The solution? Develop a polymer that can be permanently applied as an ultrathin film to glass, metal and other plastics, that also acts as a scaffold that the antibacterial molecules can to bind to.

The scientists have had success with several types of antibacterials, including antibiotic compounds, silver nanoparticles, and diterpene compounds derived from Australian traditional medicine.

“We believe that no solution will be universal so we want to establish an array of approaches,” said researcher Hans Griesser. “The new diterpene compounds that we are testing are structurally quite different from established antibacterial compounds, and they are effective against methicillin [antibiotic]-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. That is what got us excited about them.”