Research could prevent implant-caused infection

By By Rosemary Campbell, Staff Writer

By Rosemary Campbell, Staff Writer

Research professors have developed a way to avoid bacterial growth on medical device implants, such as those used on injured soldiers who have lost limbs.

When soldiers in Iraq receive prosthetic limbs from war injuries, the implant can become infected, said Roy Bloebaum, a research professor in orthopedic surgery operations at the U Orthopaedic Center, who also works in the bone and joint research laboratory at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

These infections are serious and are treated by antibiotics. However, because biofilms are composed of strong bacteria, antibiotics aren’t able to kill them, he said.

A patient can be on antibiotics for weeks or even months, and the biofilm will seem to be gone, along with the infection. However, often the biofilm is not eliminated and the infection returns.

“In some serious cases the only treatment is to remove the implant or amputate the limb,” Williams said.

However, Bloebaum and a chemistry professor at Brigham Young University, Paul Savage, developed a technique that could help about 2 percent of the patients infected by implants every year avoid a worse scenario.

Savage and his research group have worked for about 10 years developing a compound that mimics the antibiotics humans have in their own body by controlling the growth of bacteria and killing it, Savage said.

“I think (the compound) will alleviate a lot of suffering,” Savage said.

When a metal medical device is implanted or attached to a human, a large mass of bacteria called biofilm can form on the surface of the device, causing an infection, said Dustin Williams, a graduate student in bioengineering at the U.

Savage has worked with Bloebaum and the Orthopaedic Center for about two years, and in March 2008, Bloebaum came up with the idea to coat medical device implants with the compound before implanting them to prevent biofilm from forming and causing infection.

Savage has seen the pain that infections from implants can cause. Two of his family members contracted infections from implants and were treated with antibiotics, but the implants had to be removed.

“Our focus is the efficacy of (the compound) on fracture fixation plates that can expand to other orthopedic devices,” Williams said.

The National Institutes of Health awarded the researchers at the U a $1.66 million grant in January to fund ongoing research of the compound.

Bloebaum and Williams are now preparing to begin more research in August, which will continue for five years. They will test the toxicity, strength and effects of the compound on sheep. After that, they hope to apply for additional funding that could lead to applying this technology in humans.

“Our ultimate hope would be to have (the compound) used as a coating for implants in humans,” Williams said.

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