Most bacteria attach to solid surfaces by forming a film that makes them impervious to drugs and antibiotics. Despite numerous studies on bacteria over the years, knowledge about the formation of bio films and their prevention is still limited. Scientists initiated the EU-funded project 'Development and analysis of polymer based multi-functional bactericidal materials' (EMBEK1) to fill this knowledge gap and use it to develop antimicrobial materials for sustainable European health care. Materials development has led to several novel combinations, including metal ion-release systems with controllable release properties. Effectiveness of metal ions (silver, zinc or copper) in treating certain bacteria, as well as the appropriate doses for antibacterial activity without toxicity were revealed. Scientists have also used biocompatible vesicles loaded with antimicrobial agents to release drugs or viruses (bacteriophages) that selectively infect pathogenic bacteria on biological activation. Project-generated data could play an important role in the development of phage-containing wound bandages and creams. Selected coatings are now being tested on hospital textiles. Some coatings successfully prevented the adherence and growth of bacteria while promoting the adherence and growth of healthy tissue to support the biointegration of an implant. Successful outcomes have led to a patent application. Finally, using sophisticated genetics and proteomics, scientists are studying an insect model of infection and the effects of silver, zinc and copper-release systems to understand mechanisms of bacterial resistance. Particularly exciting was the fact that two common bacteria during the 18 months of study showed no signs of developed resistance to zinc. EMBEK1 has already made significant progress in understanding the mechanisms of bacterial growth on surfaces and the development of antimicrobial treatments. Project outcomes are expected to have major impact on the reduction of hospital infections, improving the quality of patient care and decreasing its cost.