University of Washington researchers have developed a method of crafting medical implants from an antibacterial polymer that could prevent thousands of patients from dying of hospital-acquired infections each year.
The polymer slowly releases an antibiotic to keep bacteria from establishing a foothold. It could be used to prevent infections around such commonly used devices as catheters as well as more permanent implants, such as pacemakers, according to Buddy Ratner, UW professor of bioengineering and director of the University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials (UWEB) program.
A two-article series on the technique appears in this month's issue of the Journal of Controlled Release.
Infections linked to devices that are inserted into patients are a serious hospital problem, according to Ratner.
"People don't realize that even commonly used devices like catheters account for about 50,000 hospital deaths in the United States each year, many of them because of infection," Ratner said.
Catheters, which are used on patients who require a long regimen of intravenous drugs, are initially sterile, but they can become gathering spots for dangerous microorganisms.
"Once the bacteria get on the device, they are extremely difficult to remove and very resistant to treatment," Ratner said. "It can take 100 times the concentration of an antibiotic to kill the bacteria when they are attached as it takes to kill them when they're free."
The reason may be a protective biofilm that bacteria produce after they become established. When that happens, often the only way to treat the infection is to remove the device from the patient.
The key to stopping infections, then, lies in killing bacteria that come near the device before they form an attachment, Ratner said.
"We found a way to put the antibiotic just on the surface of the device where it interfaces with the body's fluids," he said. "What we've developed is a slowly released micro-aur
Contact: Rob Harrill
University of Washington