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Using Antimicrobial Materials for Everyday Products

Antimicrobials could be used for plastics, textiles, and more—and for more than just medical devices.

Susan Shepard

August 25, 2022

12 Min Read
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TridAnt offers a new way to combat infections, based on more than three decades of dedicated research and trials.Image courtesy of BioInteractions

By now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, we all know the negative impact that microbes can have on our world. And so, killing germs in as many places as possible has become more important than ever before. Technologies have emerged that enable companies in many different industries to offer products that provide antimicrobial benefits to consumers. For this article, Design News spoke to just a few of these companies utilizing new tech to create innovative antimicrobial products.

An Evolutionary Step in Fighting Infection

BioInteractions has a long history of making coatings that enhance implantable medical devices by preventing clotting, infection, and rejection. The company brings this expertise built over 30 years to its latest offering—TridAnt, an antimicrobial coating that uses an active agent combined with a passive component to eliminate infection and to prevent bacterial colonization and biofilm formation on a wide variety of surfaces ranging from Class 3 implants to your skin.

Arjun Luthra, commercial director at BioInteractions, cites two major reasons why he thinks antimicrobial coatings are now so crucial. One reason, he said, is the rise of drug-resistant germs such as MRSA, as well as viruses and other bacteria. “When the world went into a pandemic and started fighting COVID, we saw that this was a similar challenge that we’re fighting in hospitals, with MRSA and other germs that are resistant to antibiotics,” he explained. “This is really what we’ve been looking at for a long time and it was very synonymous with what we’re hearing with the pandemic.”

The other force driving the need for better germ-killing products, he said, is the movement toward minimally invasive medical procedures. “We have been very limited to the tools that we have in the world to combat germs,” he said, noting that there are only three things traditionally used to fight infections—soap (detergents) and water, hand sanitizer/chemical disinfectants, and pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics and vaccines. In his opinion, these tools have limits that were highlighted in our response to COVID-19. The first two are not viable because they cannot be put on medical devices. Pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, are very effective, he said. “But one of the problems with pharmaceuticals is that pathogens build resistance. They’ve evolved against them, due to how they interact with the technology.”

So, Luthra said a new generation of technologies to combat infection is needed. Current antimicrobial coatings made of silver, copper, and chlorhexadine-based technologies are being used in the United States and other countries, but they are not widely accepted in the European Union, he said. “That’s because of the toxicity, from the chemical component,” Luthra said. 

Luthra explained that his company’s product, TridAnt, is the only technology in the world that uses a highly active solution that does not release anything from the surface. “We’ve got a chemical system, which we have proven kills the broadest spectrum of germs you’ve ever seen from our technology for extensive periods of time without reduction in efficacy,” he said. “So not only do we kill things like MRSA, as well as prevent biofilm formation to a very high level, we’re talking 99.999%, which we call 5-log reduction, but we are the only nonleaching technology that actually kills the active infection of gram-positive as well as a gram-negative bacteria rather than others who simply prevent growth,” he said. “This helps to prevent transmission as well as reduce the overall condition within the patient.” Luthra also noted that TridAnt has shown proven efficacy against both envelope and non-envelope viruses over long periods of time in varying conditions.

Additionally, TridAnt has properties that Luthra calls “touch clean technology,” meaning that whatever germs it comes in contact with, it kills. With current antimicrobial technologies, sliding an implant into a patient can actually push germs into the patient’s body, he said. TridAnt coatings disinfect any germs they contact. “The idea of touch clean technology and the idea of interacting with an active infection and being able to reduce it is incredibly novel and also incredibly beneficial, especially for implants because we want antibiotics and vaccines to be more potent, we want them to be useful and actually using these coatings in this way will actually help to do that,” Luthra said. “So this is the evolutionary step that we have in the sense of saying, well, we now are going from managing to actually exterminating and eliminating the active infection to prevent disease and illness.”

The only drawback to these types of antimicrobial coatings, Luthra said, is that regulatory agencies are now taking a much more in-depth look at the coatings. Many more technologies are falling under a drug-device combination submission, he said, which would require more work to submit to the agencies for medical device applications.

“So that, for us, would be one of the main challenges that we see because obviously creating this technology, we want to make sure that there’s accessibility and applicability on as many devices as possible, as quickly as possible,” he said. “I think it’s really about showing people this evolutionary step that we’ve taken. And why we’re taking it, and actually how beneficial this can be,” he said. “It should be the first line of defense on surfaces or other areas where people come into contact with, or even on our own devices and this can enhance our complete effort to confront and prevent infections within all areas including the extreme clinical healthcare settings,” he concluded.

Healthy Environment=Healthy People

When asked what was driving the need for more antimicrobial coatings and products, Phyllis Levine, MD, global medical director at Moonlight Technologies, said, of course, the COVID pandemic made people much more aware and concerned about bacteria and viruses, but there was another reason for the demand. “The whole environmental push has been very important to our customers and therefore we've been working on being able to deliver to them the best possible product for their programs that they can put out in consumer markets,” she said.

EcoArmor, Moonlight Technologies’s antimicrobial coating, is 100% natural and plant-based, composed of multiple herbal extracts with multiple actives that act in synergy to produce exponential efficacy. The formulation kills bacteria and fungus on contact by the Oligodynamic Effect. Each herbal extract contains multiple actives that act in synergy to produce exponential efficacy. They are "also targeted in terms of what type of microorganism we are trying to hit,” Levine said. “That's especially important sometimes for an antimicrobial—you don't want to destroy the good bacteria that people need, let's say in their environment, on their skin.”

All of the company’s products are cost compatible with existing technologies and will work with any existing finish. They can be applied to plastics, hard goods, and all fabric types, including cotton, wool, paper, silk, polyester, nylon, and modal. They are compatible with all masterbatch polymers and applications and all polymer-based products, and they are biodegradable. There is no need to change any existing manufacturing process, and they can be applied to textiles using standard padding or exhaust methodologies.

Levine forged a unique path on the way to her current career of helping bring to market plant-based antimicrobial coatings. She began her education at MIT, majoring in materials science, and then went on to medical school, eventually becoming a gynecological oncology surgeon. “I was treating patients, I was saving lives and that was really important,” she said, “but I was always drawn back to my roots.” She wanted to find antimicrobial technologies that could be used to decrease hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), she said. “As a practicing physician, I've had first-hand experience with some of the horrors that can happen,” Levine recalled. “You could do a 10-hour surgery, your patient is doing great post-op from the surgery, and then all of a sudden they pick up a nosocomial infection, an HAI, they didn't come there with,” she said. “And now you have to deal with all these setbacks. So, it became important to me to seek something that would reduce post-operative morbidity connected to hospital-acquired infections.”

Over time Levine began to realize that people cannot be healthy unless the environment they live in is also healthy. “My goal was always to see if I could introduce innovative material technologies that would have health and wellness benefits to those using them,” Levine explained. “However, ultimately I realized it was equally important that the products in no way diminish the health of the workers involved in the manufacturing process, as well as the health of the environment in which they would be used.”

During the COVID pandemic, she met Allie Sutton, Moonlight’s CEO, and the two partnered with a firm working on plant chemistries for different applications including ones to reduce infections. After years of research and development, the firm had perfected not only a botanical solution, but also an innovative plant-based delivery system. “It's the delivery system that really enabled these technologies to work better in current manufacturing,” Levine said. “They disperse better. It gave longevity and stability to the actual compounds, and it gave improved wash durability to the textiles.

“I had found what I was actually looking for,” she said. “I had something that worked but was also protecting the environment.”

Antimicrobial textiles resist bacteria and the odors they cause and so may have to be washed less frequently. “When it comes to washing, even if you save one wash or two washes a month, you’re saving billions and billions of gallons of clean water, as well as energy,” she explained. “So, as people become more interested in environmental impact and sustainability, having things that are antimicrobial that allow you to wash them less also becomes an important issue. They help the environment, they save water, their energy bills go down. So it becomes a win-win situation for everybody.”

Like Luthra at Biointeractions, Levine said there are regulatory hurdles to overcome, but she is optimistic. “We have great lab data but we're also working with EPA and FDA on the regulatory issues because we want to make sure we're not going to just put something out there,” she said. “We need to have the proper authorization and we always stick to the highest legal standards.”

Levine said that Moonlight works in a vertical chain with its farmers, and the company works with them to grow their plants in a sustainable way. “They're also very careful to not kill the plant if they don't have to,” she said. “So they try to remove what's necessary, but the plants then can keep growing and produce the next crop over and over and over. From the time we grow the plants, to when they're harvested, until we make our final finishes, that's not only carbon-neutral, it’s [also] carbon negative because the plants are absorbing more carbon than we use in our process,” she said.

“We're just taking the benefits provided by the plants to their own local environment and extending them to the rest of the world that includes the global environment and the people that live in it,” Levine concluded.

Listening to the Voice of the Customer Lead to an Antimicrobial Solution

“Many people look at a cable tie as a very small thing, but if you walk around a manufacturing facility, you’re going to see thousands of them, and they’re very important products,” said John Archer, global product manager at ABB, which makes Ty-Rap TyGenic detectable and antimicrobial cable ties. Since they are used in many different industries, the company is used to engineering its products to meet specific needs of each customer.

And what ABB was hearing from industry was that antimicrobial properties were what companies wanted, Archer said. “So, we went back in, just listening to the voice of the customer, and we added an antimicrobial feature to our detectable cable tie and that became Ty-Rap TyGenic.”

He said that companies are more conscious lately about bacterial growth. “Mold, mildew, those are the kind of contaminants that can be very dangerous for a food and beverage supplier, because that leads to recall, that leads to sickness, it leads to not just safety of the people in your building, but the safety of people consuming your product,” he said.

Archer said advances in materials science and engineering helped create the technology needed to make the Ty-Rap TyGenic cable ties with antimicrobial properties. “It was very difficult to get all of these characteristics out of a nonmetallic compound to actually be antimicrobial, and at the same time be [able to be] picked up on x-ray, visual, metal-detection equipment—all of that,” he said. “It's a very difficult compound, but I have to hand it to our engineers and materials science people.”

Ty-Rap TyGenic cable ties are the industry’s first two-piece cable ties that are both antimicrobial and detectable. They are more than 99% effective against a broad spectrum of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and fungi like mold and mildew, and detectable by x-ray, visual, and metal detection systems.

Ty-Rap TyGenic cable ties differ from other tie wraps on the market in two ways, Archer said, because they are designed with two pieces, whereas standard cable ties are molded from one piece of plastic. “When you install the cable tie, you'll hear a little click, that's why there's a little nickname out there, calling them, the zip ties,” he said. “They make a sound.” However, the grooves on the zip ties can be places for bacteria to form.

That is why the Ty-Rap TyGenic ties were designed to have a smooth body with a stainless-steel barb inside the head of the tie. This design allows for infinite adjustability, and it does not have pockets of places to collect bacteria.

“The other [difference] is the added strength [of the steel barb],” Archer said, noting that this was a proprietary invention. “That's a very difficult thing to do to have that very small steel barb in the head of that cable tie that adds so much strength.”

Ty-Rap TyGenic’s cable ties' primary market is the food and beverage industry, and healthcare is a secondary target, but Archer said there are many other industries that could benefit from them. “Maybe it's not going to be ingested into your stomach, but if somebody's makeup got contaminated with some kind of product that degraded and it caused skin issues, things like that,” he said. “Chemical, compound manufacturing, anything to do with health and wellness, and personal protective equipment are all going to be looking for things that are antimicrobial.”

About the Author(s)

Susan Shepard

Susan Shepard is a freelance contributor to MD + DI.

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