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Versatile coating Researchers invent ‘Swiss army knife’ polymer

Medical devices like syringes could soon be coated with the new polymer


A team of researchers from the Zurich Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) have come up with a versatile polymer coating that protects materials from contamination. Applications include use in medical implants, food packaging or water treatment. 

Materials like medical devices and implants are coated with special polymers to ensure that they are free from contaminants like bacteria. However, over time, such coatings lose their efficacy as the bonds that bind them to the material are weak. More resistant coating are very expensive and sometimes use toxic solvents. 

The new polymer invented by Swiss scientists uses a strong chemical bond called covalent bond to bind to surfaces that ensures they are more resistant to environmental contamination. The polymer can also bind to a wide variety of surfaces like glass and metal. This versatility is thanks to a long backbone which allows side chains that can repel contaminants and at the same time attach to different surfaces. 

"We wanted a polymer coating that is as versatile as a Swiss army knife," says research team leader Nicholas Spencer. 

Another advantage is that the polymer is extremely thin. 

“Coatings on medical devices are several microns thick but our polymer is only a couple of nanometers in thickness,” fellow researcher Stefan Zürcher told “Cost wise it works out the same per unit to coat.” 

Medical devices like biosensors, implants and future implantable drug-delivery systems are the main applications the researchers have in mind for the new polymer. But its properties can also be exploited in other areas like water treatment, ship transport, fishing, and food packaging.

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