MRSA: Attacking Implant Infections

Fresno, CA Christopher Flynn was recovering from his hip replacement when he thought he came down with a cold. It turned out to be something much worse.

"I went to bed one day because I felt achy, and I basically woke up about 10 days later," Flynn told Ivanhoe.

Doctors say the flesh-eating bacteria MRSA attached itself to Flynn's hip implant and was spreading throughout his body.

"They thought they had cleaned it up, but the following June, in June 2004, it reared its ugly head again," Flynn said.

Antibiotics didn't work. The only way to save Flynn's life was to remove the artificial hip.

"Once bacteria starts growing on an implant and form a biofilm, pharmaceutical drugs cannot penetrate that biofilm," Thomas Webster, associate professor of engineering at Brown University in Providence, R. I., told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Webster is creating a nano-sized solution to fight implant infections. He manufactured iron-oxide nanoparticles -- tiny warriors that zero in on the implant, penetrate the bacterial shield, and kill the bacteria. In lab tests, an injection of the specially-designed nanoparticles eliminated 74 percent of the bacteria on an implant in 48 hours. When repeated three times over six days, the nanoparticles killed 100 percent of the bacteria.

"These particles penetrate the biofilm, start manipulating bacteria, decreasing bacteria function," Webster said.

Researchers believe nanopartices could help patients like Flynn with the battle against MRSA without surgery.

A surprising added benefit of the nanoparticles? They attract natural bone cell growth on the surface of an implant to help the body heal itself more quickly after surgery. Researchers say this technique could kill infections on tubes and other medical instruments outside of the body as well.

Thomas Webster
Brown University

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