Research at University of Edinburgh shows that infection risk could be cut with new coatings for surgical devices

The risk of deadly hospital infections could be reduced by coating medical instruments and implants with newly discovered materials that repel bacteria, a new study from the University of Edinburgh suggests.

Adding a new type of protective layer to medical equipment reduced the numbers of bacteria found on the surface by up to 96 per cent, compared with existing uncoated devices, researchers say.

Preventing bacteria from attaching to medical instruments – such as catheters, breathing tubes and artificial implants – could significantly reduce the risk of infections and disease spread. The cost to the UK economy is more than £1 billion annually.

Scanning electron micrographs of bacterial growth on non-coated catheter (L) and coated catheter (R).

One in 10 hospital patients in the UK is hit by a bacterial infection, and in the US, hospital-acquired infections are estimated to result in more than 90,000 deaths each year.

Once bacteria attach to a surface, they create a protective biological layer around themselves – known as a biofilm. It acts as a physical barrier that makes the organisms highly resistant to antibiotics used to combat infections.

Coating medical devices with substances that stop bacteria attaching to instruments can prevent the infectious organisms from forming biofilms. However, existing materials are often expensive, are only partially effective, and some risk triggering allergic reactions in patients.

A team of researchers and clinicians at the University of Edinburgh used an advanced screening method to identify inexpensive synthetic materials that could be used as coatings to reduce infections. They tested hundreds of man-made materials and found that two significantly reduced the risk posed by various types of dangerous bacteria.

Seshasailam Venkateswaran, a PhD student in the University of Edinburgh’s College of Science and Engineering, who led the study, said:

Bacterial infections on medical devices are a serious and global issue. With the continued emergence of highly antibiotic-resistant bacteria, antibiotic-free polymer coatings which prevent a wide range of dangerous organisms from binding to such devices have tremendous potential to reduce infections.”

The study, published in Journal of Materials Chemistry B, was supported by the East of Scotland BioScience Doctoral Training Partnership, and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. 

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