Most biomedical implant failures are caused by bacterial infections. According to research carried out by biomedical researcher Agnieszka Muszanska of the University Medical Center Groningen, the risk of these infections is considerably reduced if implants are treated with a special coating. She has developed a smart coating that prevents bacteria from adhering to the implant, kills any bacteria that still manage to attach themselves and helps the implant to become embedded inside the body. She will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 27 November.
They vary from artificial heart valves and hip prostheses to breast implants and urinary catheters. More and more foreign materials, known as biomaterials, are being used to save lives and improve people’s quality of life. However, infections caused when bacteria find their way into the body along with the implant are a common problem. Infections of this kind are difficult to treat and require high doses of antibiotics, which increases the risk of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. If the treatment is unsuccessful, the implanted body part must be removed. Muszanska: ‘So the current trend in clinics is to avoid extensive treatment with antibiotics and look for alternatives.’
Muszanska went in search of, and found, one of these alternative ways to prevent infections. A coating known as ‘polymer brush-coating’ is already known to reduce bacteria adhesion by 95 percent. However despite this, the coating does not prevent some bacteria entering the body and forming a biofilm (a mucous layer that protects the bacteria from antibiotics) around the implant.
So Muszanska developed a multifunctional implant coating made from silicon rubber, which not only repels micro-organisms that enter the body, but also kills them on contact. In addition, the coating helps tissue integration by stimulating the adhesion and distribution of tissue cells. ‘If a piece of muscle is implanted, for example, you have an open wound. The new skin that grows over the wound is another form of protection against bacterial infections.’
The research results for all three functions of the coating were positive and better than the results for implants that had not been coated. ‘I have been able to show that it is possible to produce a coating with more than one function. Multifunctional coatings therefore form a sound basis for future strategies for preventing implant infections.’
Agnieszka Muszanska (Rymanow, Poland, 1982) studied medicine at Wroclaw University of Technology. She conducted her PhD research in the Biomaterials Department of the University Medical Center Groningen and her thesis is entitled: ‘Functional polymer brush-coating to prevent biomaterial associated infections’. After obtaining her PhD, Muszanska will start work as a postdoc researcher at the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials of the University of Groningen.
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