Bath Uni team creates antimicrobial 3D printed materials

Engineers at Bath University claim to have created a new kind of ferroelectric composite material with antimicrobial properties using a novel multi-material 3D-printing process.

The team's 3D printed ferroelectric materials have been found to eliminate harmful bacteria including E coli
The team's 3D printed ferroelectric materials have been found to eliminate harmful bacteria including E coli - Image via

The technique holds promise for creating infection-fighting materials that could be used as medical implants, the researchers believe.

Working with colleagues at Ulster University, the team at Bath published its research in Advanced Materials Technologies. It highlights how the use of electrically responsive ferroelectric materials gives the implants infection-fighting properties, making them ideal for biomedical applications such as heart valves, stents and bone implants, reducing infection risk for patients.

While commonplace, all biomedical implants pose some level of risk as materials can carry surface bio-contaminants that can lead to infection. Reducing this risk could be beneficial to patients in the form of improved outcomes, and to healthcare providers thanks to reduced costs incurred by ongoing treatment.

The team has previously used this 3D printing technique for the fabrication of three-dimensional scaffolds for bone tissue engineering.

Dr Hamideh Khanbareh, a lecturer in materials and structures in Bath’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, is lead author of the research. She said that the development has the scope for wide-ranging applications.


“Biomedical implants that can fight infection or dangerous bacteria such as E. coli could present significant benefits to patients and to healthcare providers,” said Dr Khanbareh.

“Our research indicates that the ferroelectric composite materials we have created have a great potential as antimicrobial materials and surfaces. This is a potentially game-changing development that we would be keen to develop further through collaboration with medical researchers or healthcare providers.”

The innovation comes thanks to ferroelectricity, a characteristic of certain polar materials that generate electrical surface charge in response to a change in mechanical energy or temperature.

In ferroelectric films and implants, this electrical charge leads to the formation of free radicals known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), which selectively eradicate bacteria. This comes about through the micro-electrolysis of water molecules on a surface of polarised ferroelectric composite material.

The composite material used to harness this phenomenon is made by embedding ferroelectric barium calcium zirconate titanate (BCZT) micro-particles in polycaprolactone (PCL) a biodegradable polymer widely used in biomedical applications. The mixture of the ferroelectric particles and polymer is then fed into a 3D bioprinter to create a specific porous ‘scaffold’ shape designed to have a high surface area to promote ROS formation.

According to the team, testing showed that even when contaminated with high concentrations of aggressive E. coli bacteria, the composite can completely eradicate the bacteria cells without external intervention, killing 70 per cent within just 15 minutes.