The healing power of shark skin?

Recent outbreaks of drug-resistant bacteria in several U.S. hospitals has experts looking for innovative solutions. One University of Florida professor thinks shark skin could offer hope.

TRANSCRIPT

HOSPITAL-BORNE INFECTIONS KILL THOUSANDS OF PATIENTS EVERY YEAR.

ONE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA PROFESSOR THINKS SHARKSKIN COULD BE THE KEY TO COMBATING THE SPREAD OF HARMFUL BACTERIA INSIDE HOSPITALS.

HIS UNUSUAL IDEA IS BEING PUT TO THE TEST BY A COMPANY CALLED SHARKLET TECHNOLOGIES.

HERE'S A LOOK.

A RECENT OUTBREAK OF DRUG-RESISTANT BACTERIA IN SEVERAL U.S. HOSPITALS HAS EXPERTS LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS.

THAT'S THE LEADING EDGE, SO WE DETECTING THE COATING ON THE EDGE...

ANTHONY BRENNAN THINKS THE ANSWER MAY BE FOUND IN THE OCEANS -- SPECIFICALLY, IN THE COMPLEX, MICROSCOPIC PATTERN FOUND ON THE SKIN OF SHARKS.

BRENNAN'S WORK ON SHARKSKIN BEGAN 14 YEARS AGO, WHEN HE WAS ASKED BY THE NAVY TO FIND A WAY TO KEEP BARNACLES FROM ATTACHING TO SHIPS.

AS I WAS DOING SOME EVALUATIONS FOR THE OFFICE OF NAVAL RESEARCH, I CAME ACROSS THIS IDEA OF THE SHARKS -- THE LITTLE NURSE SHARKS -- AND I SAID, 'THEY DON'T GET BARNACLES ON THEM, BUT A SHIP SITTING IN A HARBOR, AT A DOCK, WILL HAVE THAT SAME CURRENT, AND THEY GET BARNACLES.'

JUST A STRAIGHT SHARKLET, OR...

BRENNAN TRIED TO REPLICATE THE SHARKSKIN PATTERN, CREATING A FILMLIKE MATERIAL HE CALLED SHARKLET.

SAME COMPOSITION, DIFFERENT SAMPLE.

YES.

HE FOUND THE TEXTURE PROVIDES A DYNAMIC AND UNSTABLE ENVIRONMENT FOR MANY ORGANISMS, NOT JUST BARNACLES.

A YOUNG MAN FROM CHEMICAL ENGINEERING WANTED TO DO RESEARCH WITH ME BECAUSE HE'D HEARD ABOUT SHARKLET.

AND SO I GAVE HIM A PIECE BASED ON HIS PRIOR EXPERIENCE WORKING WITH E. COLI, WHICH IS A HUMAN BASE BACTERIA, AND THIS PARTICULAR SPECIES.

AND HE KNEW HOW TO CULTURE IT, SO I SAID, 'WELL, HERE.

TAKE THIS FILM DOWN TO THE LAB AND GROW E. COLI ON IT.'

AND HE KEPT COMING BACK AND SAYING, 'I CAN'T GET IT TO WORK.'

THERE ARE MANY SURFACES OUT THERE THAT CAN STOP WATER FROM SETTLING ON THEM, BUT THE ORGANISMS CAN STILL GET ON THEM.

AND THE SHARKLET JUST HAS A UNIQUE TOPOGRAPHY, WITH THOSE SMALL FEATURES GOING UP TO THE LARGE ONES AND BACK DOWN AGAIN, AND THAT PERIODIC NATURE IN IT IS VERY IMPORTANT IN INHIBITING THE ATTACHMENT OF THESE ORGANISMS.

BECAUSE AS THE SHARK IS MOVING THROUGH THE WATER, THE ANIMAL IS MOVING, AND AS IT MOVES, ITS SKIN MOVES, AND IT'S CHANGING THE WAY THOSE INDIVIDUAL FEATURES INTERACT WITH THE WATER.

SO YOU'RE GETTING VERY SMOOTH FLOW AND THEN TURBULENT FLOW AND THEN SMOOTH FLOW, AND THAT STRUCTURE, I THINK, IS CONTRIBUTING TO THE CLEANING ACTION THAT THE SHARKS UNDERGO THAT HELPS PREVENT BACTERIA FROM GROWING ON THE SHARKS.

BRENNAN BELIEVES THE TEXTURED SHARKLET SURFACE COULD HELP PREVENT THE GROWTH AND TRANSMISSION OF BACTERIA.

CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH THE RESULTS THAT WE'VE GOTTEN SO FAR?

THAT THEORY IS BEING PUT TO THE TEST BY A COMPANY CALLED SHARKLET TECHNOLOGIES.

THEY CREATED A MAN-MADE, TEXTURED SHARKLET FILM.

LIKE THE SKIN OF A SHARK, THE FILM REPELS BACTERIA, SOME OF WHICH CAN BE DEADLY.

SHINING A LASER THROUGH THE FILM REVEALS SHARKLET'S MICROSCOPIC PATTERN.

WE USE TEXTURES INSPIRED BY THE SKIN OF SHARKS TO CONTROL BACTERIA ON SURFACES.

SO NO CHEMICALS, NO ANTIBIOTICS, NO HEAVY METALS.

IT REALLY IS JUST THE OF THE SURFACE THAT THE BACTERIA DON'T LIKE.

ABOUT 2 MILLION PEOPLE A YEAR GET WHAT ARE CALLED HOSPITAL-ACQUIRED INFECTIONS.

THAT MEANS THEY WENT INTO THE HOSPITAL FOR KNEE SURGERY OR HIP SURGERY, AND THEY ENDED UP GETTING SOME KIND OF INFECTION WHILE THERE THAT THEY DIDN'T BRING IN WITH THEM.

OF THOSE 2 MILLION PEOPLE, WE SPEND ABOUT $30 BILLION A YEAR TREATING THOSE INFECTIONS, AND 100,000 PEOPLE A YEAR DIE FROM THOSE INFECTIONS.

SOME OF THE BACTERIA THAT ARE OUT THERE ARE RESISTANT.

THEY'RE THE MULTIDRUG-RESISTANT BACTERIA THAT ARE RESISTANT TO DIFFERENT ANTIBIOTICS.

WE JUST DON'T WANT THE BACTERIA TO ATTACH TO OUR SURFACE, AND WHEN THEY DON'T ATTACH, THEY DIE.

SO WHETHER THEY'RE RESISTANT OR NOT RESISTANT, THEY DON'T LIKE OUR SURFACE.

MANY BACTERIA -- IN THIS CASE, A COMMON STAPH GERM -- HAVE TROUBLE ATTACHING TO AND GROWING ON THE SHARKLET PATTERN.

WE COMPARE A SMOOTH SURFACE RIGHT NEXT TO A SHARKLET SURFACE.

THERE'S 10 TO 100 MORE BACTERIA ON A SMOOTH SURFACE COMPARED TO A SHARKLET SURFACE.

SPIECKER AND HIS TEAM HOPE TO BRING THE SHARKLET FILM INTO HOSPITALS.

THE TEXTURED MATERIAL CAN BE ATTACHED TO HIGH-TOUCH AREAS, LIKE HANDRAILS AND DOORKNOBS.

OUR PHARMACIST IS WORKING ON tPA IN THE BACKGROUND.

DR. MARGARET SANDE DIRECTS AN EMERGENCY-ROOM-SIMULATION CENTER, WHERE SHE AND HER STUDENTS CONDUCTED A STUDY WITH THE SHARKLET FILM, COVERING SURFACES LIKE CART HANDLES AND DRUG VIALS.

WHEN IT REALLY IS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH, PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS, BY THEIR NATURAL INSTINCT, GONNA JUMP IN, ROLL UP THEIR SLEEVES, AND ACT.

WE INTENTIONALLY HAD THE STAPH AUREUS BACTERIA, WHICH IS A COMMON BACTERIA, ON THE LEG OF THE PATIENT SO THAT THEY STARTED WITH A TOUCH AT THE LEG, AND THE PATIENT BECAME CRITICALLY ILL AND NEEDED TO HAVE THE DEFIBRILLATOR APPLIED.

AND THEY GRABBED THAT CART, AND THEY HAD TO ENGAGE THE DEFIBRILLATOR BY PUSHING THE BUTTON.

WE WERE ABLE TO PROMPT THEM, ESSENTIALLY, AS THE CASE UNFOLDED, TO TOUCH CERTAIN PLACES IN A GIVEN SEQUENCE.

THE HAND CAN BE, SORT OF, THE SOURCE OF ALL EVIL AS WE THEN DEAL WITH THE DEVICES THAT WE USE TO TREAT PATIENTS, LIKE CATHETERS, ET CETERA.

THINGS THAT BECOME INVASIVE THEN BECOME A PORTAL FOR INFECTION FOR OUR PATIENTS.

THE SURFACES COVERED WITH SHARKLET, WHICH COSTS 50 CENTS TO $1 PER SQUARE FOOT, RETAINED FEWER GERMS.

MARK SPIECKER SAYS THE MATERIAL MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SHARKLET SURFACE AND THE NON-SHARKLET SURFACE WAS ABOUT A 13-FOLD DECREASE IN BACTERIA THAT TRANSFERRED ONTO THOSE SURFACES.

THAT'S EXCELLENT.

BACK AT HIS LAB IN FLORIDA, ANTHONY BRENNAN HOPES HIS DISCOVERY WILL CREATE A NEW GENERATION OF SURFACE-BASED TECHNOLOGIES TO PREVENT BIOFOULING -- THE BUILDUP OF ORGANISMS.

WE'RE LEARNING A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF INFORMATION FROM THE INTRODUCTION OF THE SHARKLET.

EVERYBODY IS STARTING TO LOOK AT MAMMALS, AND PEOPLE HAVE LOOKED AT PORPOISE SKINS AS A WAY OF CREATING A TEXTURE TO TRY TO INHIBIT BIOFOULING.

THEY'VE GONE BACK AND LOOKED AT WHALES AGAIN.

THEY'RE LOOKING AT ALL THE CHEMICAL SPECIES THAT THESE SKINS RELEASE AND TRYING TO DEVELOP A VIABLE TECHNOLOGY FOR ANTI-FOULING.

SO IT'S BEEN EXTREMELY INFORMATIVE TO US.