Antimicrobial technology could improve lives of catheter users

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An antimicrobial catheter that remains infection free for up to 12 weeks could improve the lives of long-term catheter users, scientists claim.

The scientists who have developed the new technology are presenting their work at the Society for General Microbiology’s Autumn Conference at Warwick University.

According to a statement, researchers at Nottingham University have developed a catheter that can kill most urinary bacteria, including most strains of Proteus bacteria — the most common cause of catheter infections.

The antimicrobial catheter is said to retain its activity for between six and 12 weeks, making it suitable for long-term use, unlike existing commercial anti-infection catheters.

Urinary catheters are commonly used to manage incontinence in the elderly or individuals who have suffered long-term spinal-cord injury.

All catheters become infected after a couple of weeks and Proteus bacteria are responsible for up to 40 per cent of these infections.

The bacterium sticks to catheter surfaces and breaks down urea, causing the pH of urine to rise. This causes deposits of mineral crystals in the catheter that blocks it, preventing drainage.

If unnoticed, catheter blockage can lead to kidney and bloodstream infections, which may result in septic shock.

This new antimicrobial catheter has significant advantages over existing solutions, explained Dr Roger Bayston, who is leading the development.

‘Commercial “anti-infection” catheters are active for only a few days and are not suitable for long-term use,’ he said. ‘There is an urgent need for an antimicrobial catheter that is suitable for long-term use. Our catheter uses patented technology that does not involve any coatings, which extends its antimicrobial activity. The process involves introducing antimicrobial molecules into the catheter material after manufacture, so that they are evenly distributed throughout it yet can move through the material to replenish those washed away from the surface.’

There are 100 million catheter users worldwide whose lives can be severely disrupted by illness from repeat infections and side effects from antibiotics.

‘The catheter technology has proven benefits in other medical settings and has the potential to be the solution to recurrent infections in long-term catheter users, which will improve the quality of life of these individuals,’ added Bayston. ‘In addition, reducing the need to frequently change catheters and treat infections would represent huge financial savings to the NHS.’