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How Do Bacteria Clog Medical Devices? Very Quickly

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A new study has exam­ined how bac­te­ria clog med­ical devices, and the result isn't pretty. The microbes join to cre­ate slimy rib­bons that tan­gle and trap other pass­ing bac­te­ria, cre­at­ing a full block­age in a star­tlingly short period of time.

The find­ing could help shape strate­gies for pre­vent­ing clog­ging of devices such as stents -- which are implanted in the body to keep open blood ves­sels and pas­sages -- as well as water fil­ters and other items that are sus­cep­ti­ble to con­t­a­m­i­na­tion. The research was pub­lished in Pro­ceed­ings of the National Acad­emy of Sciences.

Click on the image to view movie. Over a period of about 40 hours, bac­te­r­ial cells (green) flowed through a chan­nel, form­ing a green biofilm on the walls. Over the next ten hours, researchers sent red bac­te­r­ial cells through the chan­nel. The red cells became stuck in the sticky biofilm and began to form thin red stream­ers. Once stuck, these stream­ers in turn trapped addi­tional cells, lead­ing to rapid clog­ging. (Image source: Knut Drescher)

Using time-lapse imag­ing, researchers at Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity mon­i­tored fluid flow in nar­row tubes or pores sim­i­lar to those used in water fil­ters and med­ical devices. Unlike pre­vi­ous stud­ies, the Prince­ton exper­i­ment more closely mim­ic­ked the nat­ural fea­tures of the devices, using rough rather than smooth sur­faces and pressure-driven fluid instead of non-moving fluid.
 
 

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