Scottish scientists at the University of Strathclyde have been working on extending the life of bacteriophages, and embedding them into wound dressings and sutures, to fight the spread of MRSA and other bacteria.
Although they are too small to see with the naked eye, bacteria are also attacked by viruses, but by specific ones that infect only bacteria, not human or animal cells. For bacteria, they present a threat like the alien life form in the film Alien- growing inside the bacteria and then bursting out to attack other similar bacteria, continuing their life cycle. Now doctors are harnessing these little alien creatures to help prevent the spread of hospital superbugs by developing materials impregnated with thousands of tiny beads coated in bacteria-killing viruses.
“Some bacteria-specific viruses- called bacteriophages- have been used in the past to help clear up infections caused by bacteria, but their use died out when antibiotics like penicillin and methicillin became widely available,” said Janice Spencer, of the company Blaze Venture Technologies Ltd, which has a base in the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences. “We are looking at them again now that multiple antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria have become such a problem in hospitals.”
The researchers have developed a technique to keep the viruses active for more than three weeks, instead of having them die after a few hours, by chemically bonding them to polymers. The polymers, including nylon, can be in various forms including microscopic beads and strips.
Nylon beads can be incorporated into cleaning materials, to decontaminate operating theatres and prevent infections. The nylon can also be in the form of sutures, or wound dressings, to decontaminate and prevent wound infection. This limits the risk of blood poisoning, which can be life threatening. Immobilising the bacteriophages on to sutures- the hospital thread used to stitch up patients during operations- immediately kills some of the bacteria that would otherwise infect the wound. This speeds up wound healing and reduces the likelihood of the patient developing a major infection.