A research team led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US has developed a microbubble scrubber that can destroy microbial films coating medical devices.

The new system uses bubbles to inject tiny particles through the surfaces of the films which then kills the microorganisms inside.

Hospital devices and implants inside patients are often permeated by biofilms, which are said to be the cause for 80% of medical infections.

"The new system uses bubbles to inject tiny particles through the surfaces of the films which then kills the microorganisms inside."

The researchers noted that such films are difficult to eliminate because standard disinfectants and antibiotics cannot effectively penetrate their tough surface.

To address this challenge, the team used algal diatoms incorporated with hydrogen peroxide and oxygen-generating sheets of manganese oxide.

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign postdoctoral researcher Yongbeom Seo said: “We could have fabricated a particle using 3D printers, but luckily nature already provided us with a cheap and abundant option in diatoms.

“The species of diatom we selected are hollow, highly porous and rod-shaped, providing a lot of surface area for the bubbles to form and a channel for the bubbles to escape.”

The hydrogen peroxide and manganese oxide nanosheets react within the diatom and generate microbubbles that propel the diatoms to break biofilm’s surface.

After entry into the internal structure of the biofilm, the diatoms continue to discharge bubbles and allow entry of hydrogen peroxide, an effective disinfectant against bacteria and fungus.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Simon Rogers said: “We have arrived at a mechanistic solution for this problem and the possibilities for this technology are endless.”

Currently, the researchers are exploring additional applications for the microbubble scrubber system.