Sugar may protect medical devices from infection

Medical device-associated infections represent up to half of all healthcare associated infections in Ireland, which impact one in 20 patients

Researchers at NUI Galway and Queen’s University Belfast are investigating how attaching sugar molecules to plastics may give medical devices a new layer of protection from infection.

According to the INMO, the prevalence of healthcare associated infections (HAIs) is a staggeringly high 5.2 per cent – one in 20 Irish patients acquires an infection while getting treatment.

Researchers Dr Joseph Byrne, NUI Galway, and Dr Matthew Wylie, Queen’s University Belfast, want to further understand the science behind the interaction of sugar molecules with bacterial proteins to make fluorescent materials which glow at first, darkening when they become compromised by bacteria.

The technology would be attached to plastics which coat medical devices – such as urinary catheters or endotracheal tubes – allowing clinicians to spot potential infection at an early opportunity, and react faster, improving patient outcomes.

Dr Byrne, Honorary Research Lecturer in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, NUI Galway, explained that prevention of bacterial infections is key to fighting the challenge of antimicrobial resistance.

“…And if this isn’t possible, then early detection through innovative sensing materials could act as an alarm, allowing devices to be removed and replaced before infection becomes a more serious risk to patient health,” he said.

Medical device-associated infections account for up to half of healthcare-associated infections and people who are immunocompromised people and those with cystic fibrosis are particularly at risk.

These kinds of infections are a serious health concern to patients and incur significant expense to healthcare systems, requiring longer stays and increased antibiotic usage – accelerating the development of antibiotic resistance in viruses.

The rise of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria is an urgent problem, decreasing the effectiveness of existing antibiotics. It is estimated that across EU/EEA countries, 33,000 deaths per year in EU/EEA countries are associated with antimicrobial resistance, costing more than €1 billion to health services.

The SUGARCOAT project is supported with €193,000 from the Government’s Shared Island initiative.

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