Nanotechnology may provide antibacterial breakthrough

Contracting hospital-acquired infections through catheter or IV lines could be avoided with a new nanoparticle-based technology currently used in large-scale chemical processes.

This is the goal of researchers from four UK universities that have received £223,013 of government funding plus support from Irish microfluidic chip developer Cellix for their ‘Smart Composites for Minimising Bacterial Biofilm Formation’ project.

Project leader James Davis, a professor from the Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials Research Institute at Ulster University, said the team will spend two years developing a prototype access line – for IVs or catheters – that contains embedded ion-oxide nanoparticles.

He added that these nanoparticles would be capable of converting oxygen in the patient’s blood, initially into peroxide. The peroxide would then be converted into a more reactive form known as a hydroxyl radical, which can kill hospital bugs.

Davis said the idea ‘piggybacks’ off chemistry processes that have been used for cleaning up organic wastes from sewage.

‘It’s never been tried for in vivo systems,’ he added. ‘There are technical issues in terms of trying to miniaturise it down into an in vivo system.’

The application of antibiotics is the normal clinical recourse when bacteria enters an access line but it is not always effective. This is because bacteria tends to form a protective film that can minimise an antibiotic’s effect and lead to resistance with repeated re-infection necessitating the premature removal of the line.

Davis said the advantages of the nanoparticle system is it does not contribute to antimicrobial resistance, can be used continuously and does not subject the patient to increasingly potent antibiotics.

Nottingham Trent University and the universities of Surrey and Oxford are also participating in the project.