The UK’s world-class expertise in the research of biofilms has been recognised through the launch of a new National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC).
Supported by a commitment of £26 million over the next 5 years, including £12.5M funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Innovate UK, with additional support from universities and industry, NBIC will bring the best of UK biofilm research together with UK companies from across multiple industry sectors to accelerate the adoption of new technologies into live products and services.
NBIC is a multi-site Innovation and Knowledge Centre, led by the University of Southampton together with a core partnership of the Universities of Edinburgh, Liverpool and Nottingham. The University of Birmingham will contribute its unique expertise as an NBIC partner together with 10 more partner universities, three research centres – Diamond Synchrotron, the Hartree Centre and the Quadram Institute – and three major global academic partners – The Nanyang Technologial University (Singapore), the Montana State University (USA) and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark). NBIC will also collaborate with a network of over 50 companies from different sectors ranging from SMEs to large companies to exploit the UK’s global leadership in biofilms. NBIC’s inclusive model means that other universities and companies conducting biofilm research can participate and benefit from partnership with the NBIC consortium.
“This new National Biofilms Innovation Centre is poised to create a fusion of world-class interdisciplinary research and industry partnerships to deliver breakthrough science and technologies to control and exploit biofilms,” said Jeremy Webb, Principal Investigator and Co-Director for NBIC. “The UK is home to some of the most advanced research and commercial opportunities for the exploitation of biofilms so combining our talents gives us the best opportunity to establish a national, and international, agenda to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges and work seamlessly across academia and industry to stimulate growth in this vital area.”
The University of Birmingham is already a major player in biofilm research in many different disciplines. Research here ranges from studying biofilms in rivers, through using biofilms to improve stress resistance of biocatalysis, to investigating new ways to combat biofilms on medical devices or on human tissues, where they can cause serious health problems. Other areas of strength include magnetic resonance imaging of molecular transport in biofilms, mixed fungal and bacterial biofilms, computational modelling and synthesis of peptides, polymers and nanomaterials to visualize or combat biofilms.
Dr Jan Kreft, of the Institute of Microbiology and Infection (IMI) and the Centre for Computational Biology (CCB) at the University of Birmingham, said: “We are proud to be part of this new Centre, which will be a tremendous networking and funding mechanism to facilitate greater collaboration between academics and industry partners.”
“At the University of Birmingham, we will use the Centre to develop a number of products that could be revolutionary, from new smart nanomaterials that release antimicrobials when triggered by environmental conditions, to novel light and photonic therapies and laser texturing of surfaces to prevent biofilm formation.”
Microbial biofilm research is now a feature of many scientific disciplines including biological sciences, medicine, chemistry, physics, computational modelling, engineering and ocean science. Biofilms are central to some of the most urgent global challenges across diverse fields of application, from medicine to industry to the environment and exert considerable economic and social impact:
- They are a leading cause of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), forecast to cost $100T in world GDP and 10M deaths by 2050;
- They are the major cause of chronic infections, costing the NHS £2bn per annum;
- Contamination, energy losses and damage by biofilms impact on the £70B UK foods industry, the $2.8T consumer products sector, and $117B global coatings industry.
- Biofilm management is essential to deliver clean and globally sustainable drinking water and food security.
* This image from Dr Rachel Sammons, School of Dentistry @unibirmingham, shows dental plaque on a retrieved infected dental implant. It is made of several different species of bacteria. In the image, we can see filaments, rods and cocci (spherical) bacteria as well as blood cells. The “corn-cobs” are typical of mature plaque and consist of a filamentous bacterium surrounded by cocci in a symbiotic relationship.