UT scientists might have found key to stopping hospital infections


Highlights

Hundreds of thousands or more suffer infections each year from medical devices that have bacterial films.

University of Texas researchers say they have figured out why the film develops.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States, if not more, suffer infections each year from medical devices that have developed microbial films — sticky mats of bacteria that are hard to find and clean off.

But University of Texas researchers say they have figured out why the film develops, a finding that could lead to a way to prevent such mats from forming on catheters, breathing tubes and other medical equipment.

The research, published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, studied how some kinds of bacteria figure out if they are attached to a surface. It found that the bacteria attach themselves through a phenomenon called shear, which leads bacteria to form the film.

UT science writer Marc Airhart describes the phenomenon thusly:

“Imagine you’re in a river and you’re trying to pull yourself along underwater by grabbing rocks on the bottom and pulling forward. Shear is the force that is stretching your body; it’s what you feel in your arms and legs as you pull against the resistance of the water. You might not feel much shear if the water is still and you’re moving slowly, or it might be high if the river is moving fast and you’re going the opposite way. Let go of the rocks and just ‘go with the flow’ of the river, and you won’t feel any shear.”

Estimates vary on how many people in the United States suffer infections as a result of the biofilm. A 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 185,000, while a study in the Clinical Infectious Diseases Journal put the number at 2.8 million.

Previous research had shown that the bacteria start forming the film when they sense that they are attached. What was not clear was how they sensed something to which to adhere. It turned out to be shear, according to UT findings.

The bacteria are generally harder to kill when attached and may evolve a resistance to the agent used to kill them. Non-sticky surfaces also have not worked as a countermeasure because the bacteria are persistent and have many ways to attach.

Lead researcher Vernita Gordon concluded that a third way to prevent the gunky buildup is to engineer a surface with some property that fools the bacteria into thinking there is nothing to adhere to.

“It’s important to prevent biofilms before they start,” Gordon said. “It’s much easier to wipe out free-floating bacteria than a biofilm.”

The fix is not immediately clear. Gordon and her colleagues — UT researchers Christopher Rodesney, Brian Roman and Numa Dhamani, among others — will be investigating materials that could fool the bacteria or otherwise prevent them from detecting shear, according to a university statement.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

In upset, GOP’s Flores defeats Democrat Gallego in Texas Senate runoff
In upset, GOP’s Flores defeats Democrat Gallego in Texas Senate runoff

Casting serious doubt on Democratic hopes for a blue wave in Texas, Republican Pete Flores defeated Democrat Pete Gallego in Tuesday’s runoff election for a vacant seat in the state Senate — a seat that had been safely Democratic in previous years. Flores will represent Senate District 19 when the Legislature convenes in January, filling...
Former New Orleans mayor urges fight against resurgent racism
Former New Orleans mayor urges fight against resurgent racism

These are not normal times, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Tuesday of the Trump presidency, and the way to preserve American values is to confront this abnormality head on, offering as an example the way he and other Louisianans fought the rise of the former Klansman and neo-Nazi David Duke three decades ago when he made his foray into...
Wrong 911 call disrupts trial of man accused in numerous attacks
Wrong 911 call disrupts trial of man accused in numerous attacks

An aggravated sexual assault trial was disrupted Tuesday when Travis County prosecutors inadvertently played the wrong 911 call for the jury and, according to their counterparts at the defense table, violated defendant Nicodemo Coria-Gonzalez’s right to a fair trial. Coria-Gonzalez, 27, is accused of assaulting seven women between December 2015...
Central Health to reconsider budget, hold hearing about ending Sendero
Central Health to reconsider budget, hold hearing about ending Sendero

Within days of being diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of cancer, about a year ago, Austin artist Chia Guillory began treatment. Today, she’s in remission. Guillory was able to receive care immediately, she told the Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, only because of the subsidy she receives from the county’s health district, Central...
Well-known Austin activist Chas Moore charged with assault
Well-known Austin activist Chas Moore charged with assault

Chas Moore, a well-known community activist and director of the Austin Justice Coalition, is being charged with assault, a misdemeanor stemming from a recent altercation at a Sixth Street establishment, his attorney confirmed Tuesday. “It is an unfortunate incident,” lawyer Brian McGiverin said. “I think it is going to be resolved...
More Stories