Dental plaque on a retrieved infected dental implant.

The University of Birmingham is to play a role in the new National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC) launched today which brings together the UK’s world-class expertise in biofilms research. 

Biofilms are central to some of the most urgent global challenges across diverse fields of application, from medicine to industry and the environment.

They are:

  • A leading cause of antimicrobial resistance, forecast to cause 10 million deaths by 2050
  • A major cause of chronic infections, costing the NHS £2 billion per annum
  • Causing an impact on the UK foods industry, the consumer products sector, and the global coatings industry due to contamination, energy losses and damage caused by biofilms
  • Essential to deliver clean and globally sustainable drinking water and food security

Supported by a commitment of £26 million over the next five years, including £12.5 million 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 in partnership with the Universities of Edinburgh, Liverpool and Nottingham. Meanwhile, the University of Birmingham will be one of 14 further partners contributing its unique expertise.

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.

Jeremy Webb, Principal Investigator and Co-Director for NBIC, said: “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.

“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 ranges from studying biofilms in rivers, through to using biofilms to improve stress resistance of bio-catalysis, as well as investigating new ways to combat biofilms on medical devices or on human tissues, where they can cause serious health problems.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham’s School of Dentistry investigate complex, mixed biofilms in the oral cavity and other body sites, their interaction with the immune system, antimicrobial surfaces and materials, novel drug delivery systems and methods of biofilm removal, including light therapy to modulate biofilm infections.

Dr Jan Kreft, of the Institute of Microbiology and Infection and the Centre for Computational Biology 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.”