“Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear, and he shows them pearly white.” So goes the first line of the classic hit song, Mack the Knife—a ballad that has nothing to say about an equally impressive feature of the shark’s anatomy, its pristine skin. A new casting and release paper product called Neoterix ST sings the praise of shark skin and its built-in cleanliness in an altogether different way.
Neoterix ST is the result of a collaboration between Sharklet Technologies, which holds the patent on the antimicrobial surface texture that makes the product unique, and Sappi North America, which will manufacture and distribute it beginning next year. The companies say that in Neoterix ST, they have developed the first release paper that can make surfaces resistant to bacteria without toxic additives or chemicals. It’s meant for use in germ-fighting environments like hospitals and may eventually find applications in labels and packaging.
Acting like molds, release papers impart gloss and texture to the surfaces of fabrics, laminate films, and other materials that are peeled away from them and laid down elsewhere. Ethan Mann, Sharklet’s director of research and quality, says that what Neoterix ST transfers is a diamond-shaped micropattern that biomimics the “ordered roughness” of a shark’s outer covering.
Shark skin has tiny, tooth-like structures called dermal denticles or placoid scales. Wrapped in a matrix of them, a shark naturally fends off biological adhesion by marine organisms as it swims. By imitating this texture, says Mann, Neoterix ST inhibits bacterial growth and reduces the risk of infections that the microbes cause.
According to a Sappi press release announcing the launch of the product, the Sharklet microtexture—consisting of elements that are about one-tenth the size of a red blood cell—reduced surface contamination of an antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus by 94%, compared to controls.
The technology comes from research in microtopography—the study of the surface features of an area or a material on a small or microscopic scale—conducted by Dr. Anthony Brennan of the University of Florida, who had been asked by the U.S. Navy to find a way to reduce marine fouling on the hulls of its vessels. Sharklet Technologies, established in 2007, licenses the technology for medical and consumer applications.
Sharklet products using the micropattern include catheters, endotracheal tubes, and a dressing for combat wounds that promotes rapid healing. Until now, says Mann, the challenge to commercializing the technology more widely has been the difficulty of manufacturing products incorporating the micropattern on an industrial scale.
This is what Sappi has accomplished by bringing it to market in Neoterix ST, the first offering in a new line by that name. Sappi makes casting and release papers for a variety of visual effects and tactile effects, but Neoterix ST will be its first such product with a functional purpose to serve.
How Sappi did it is the “secret sauce” of the collaboration with Sharklet, according to Mike Greene, the paper company’s marketing manager for specialties business. He says that Sappi and partners have created a tool that can apply the micropattern with 100% fidelity to rolls of paper up to 60" wide. Manufactured in this way, Neoterix ST is reusable. After the material to which it imparts the micropattern is peeled away, the release paper can be rewound for up to 60 additional applications.
Greene says that Sappi’s initial focus will be on meeting the “burden of proof” requirements that the hospital and healthcare markets will place on Neoterix ST’s anti-bacterial claims. The desire to move away from antimicrobial chemicals is strong in these environments, says Mann, noting that Neoterix ST gives medical institutions the first completely non-toxic solution for blocking bacterial growth on high-touch surfaces.
After that, materials bearing the Sharklet micropattern could turn up in shoe liners, clothing, marine and aircraft interiors, restaurant and hotel spaces, and other end-use settings where resisting the spread of germs is a high priority. Medical and consumer packaging is another possibility, according to Greene, who says that Sappi wants to hear from those interested in beta-testing Neoterix ST with their products.
Sappi is ramping up production and expects Neoterix ST to be commercially available around the world in early 2017.