Urinary catheters are polymer tubes inserted into the bladder to drain urine. Over 25% of patients in hospital are fitted with a catheter during their stay. These tubes are a major cause of infection in hospitalized patients and result in longer hospital stays with skyrocketing health care costs and may result in death. In fact, infections acquired in hospitals are the fourth leading cause of death in hospitalized patients.
Currently, antibiotics are our only method of attempting to deal with these infections, but they do not work well. Bacteria form large communities, known as biofilms, on the surface of the catheter, which can render antibiotics ineffective. Additionally, bacteria have developed ways to inactivate antibiotics and become resistant, making them difficult to kill.
Dr. Lange has developed a breakthrough technology based on a special coating for catheters. The coating is inspired by nature—it’s very similar to what marine mussels use to attach to surfaces—and prevents bacteria from attaching to the catheter surface without killing the bacteria, which would induce resistance. Instead, by preventing bacteria from attaching to surfaces, we leave them exposed for our immune system to kill.
Dr. Lange’s preliminary studies have shown that this new coating prevents the attachment of different types of bacteria to the catheter surface in test tubes and in a realistic urinary environment in animal models. The coating doesn’t break down over time and can be used to cover many different types of materials.
The next steps for this technology will be producing catheters with this coating, including testing its effectiveness over long periods of time in larger animals, ensuring it cannot be rubbed off, and that it stays active under conditions it would face in medical environments. Although this project is specifically looking at catheter infections, the data that Dr. Lange will generate will provide a general method for preventing infections associated with other medical devices, another major problem in hospitals.