Patients with implants can develop infections because of a biofilm of persistent bacterial bugs on the surfaces of their devices. Researchers found that some strains of the bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, have just a few genetic variants in the proteins on their surfaces that make them more likely to form these biofilms.
The research seeks to get to the heart of a medical paradox: Devices such as pacemakers, defibrillators and prosthetic cardiac valves save lives, but they cause infections in about 4 percent of the estimated 1 million patients receiving implants each year in the United States. Because biofilms resist antibiotics, the only treatment is surgery to remove the contaminated device and implant a new one. This adds up to thousands of surgeries and more than $1 billion in health care costs every year.
A team led by scientists at Ohio State University and Duke University Medical Center used atomic-force microscopy and powerful computer simulations to determine how Staph bacteria bond to the devices in the process of forming these biofilms. The findings offer clues about potential techniques that could be employed to prevent infections in patients who need these devices to stay alive.