artificial cornea

Plastic that mimics insect wings kills bacteria on lenses

The centre of an artificial corneais coated with tiny pillars that impale and kill bacterial cells. Credit: Jonathan Pegan

A new plastic that mimics the surface of insect wings might help to save people’s eyesight by killing off bacteria without harming other cells in the eye. Researchers at the University of California (UC), USA, presented the research at an annual American Chemical Society meeting.  

The researchers have made an antibacterial material with thousands of tiny, spike-like pillars. Each pillar takes the role of one of the invisible hairs on a cicada wing and just like the insect wing, the surface kills various types of bacterial cells. These surfaces can also be shaped in a curve to suit an artificial eye cornea. 

The research team led by Albert Yee, materials scientist at UC used a polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) plastic to create a flexible mould for the cicada-like pillars. Mary Nora Dickson, a graduate student working on the project said, ‘Our method is based on one developed in the early 2000s for the semiconductor industry. It is robust, inexpensive and can be used in industrial production. So it can now be applied to medical devices that could improve people’s quality of life.’

Credit: Mary Nora Dickson

The process uses commercial moulds that contain billions of tiny pits in an area that covers a few square inches. Pressing the mould onto a heated polymer film reshapes the material, leaving it filled with nanopillars once the mould is removed.

Dickson’s research showed that the nanopillared PMMA surface produced with a curved mould retains the ability to kill bacteria without harming other kinds of cells in the eye. The team is currently developing a mould for the taller pillars based on dragon-fly wings.

The group has filed for patents on the bactericidal surface and artificial cornea application and hopes to begin animal trials this year.