Messersmith is the Erastus O. Haven Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Messersmith's team tested all kinds of materials -- medically relevant polymers, engineering polymers, metals, inorganic substrates and ceramics -- and a coating stuck to each one. The researchers also demonstrated they can easily modify the coatings to give them additional functions, such as an antifouling property to prevent cells from building up on a surface, such as a pacemaker.
"What's interesting is that the raw materials we regularly encounter in our diets can benefit us in a way we had never envisioned -- as coatings on medical devices," said Tadas S. Sileika, a graduate student in Messersmith's lab and first author of the paper.
"The coatings innately have properties that are very beneficial to saving lives and keeping people healthy. Without any further modification, they can help prolong the life of a medical device, reduce inflammation in a patient and prevent bacterial infections," he said.
For 15 years, Messersmith's lab has been developing new biomedical materials, including another coating called polydopamine, also based on phenols, which are found in the sticky glue that marine mussels use to stick to rocks. Because of their chemical similarities, Messersmith and his colleagues wondered if the phenol compounds found in plant-derived red wine, green tea and dark chocolate might have similar sticking power.
This curiosity led to the kitchen sink experiments in which the researchers detected a colorless residue left behind on containers exposed to green tea and red wine. Experiments using polyphenol-rich food extracts from green tea, red wine, dark chocolate and cacao beans also produced coatings.
Messersmith and his team then went one step farther: after finding this behavior also holds for low-cost polyphenols and similar compounds, the
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