Antibacterial Discovery Prevents Infections From Spreading on Medical Devices

“Blocking molecule” targets links that hold bacteria together

Microbiologists at Trinity College Dublin have discovered how to prevent bacteria from growing on medical devices, such as hip replacements and heart valves, that are implanted in the body. Medical devices are routinely used to prevent and treat illness and disease, but their use is compromised when an accumulation of bacteria––called biofilms––attaches to the surface of the device after it has been implanted.

Communities of staphylococci grow on catheters, heart valves, and artificial joints, and avoid being killed by antibiotics and the human immune system, which means that health care professionals often have to remove and replace the medical devices. 

The researchers are studying new ways to prevent medical device-related infections. Their recent findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that it is possible to prevent communities of staphylococci from forming by targeting the linkages that hold the bacteria together.

The investigators found that it was possible to stop bacteria from attaching to surfaces and to each other by using a small blocking molecule. The target of this molecule was the SdrC protein attached to the surface of the bacteria. In laboratory experiments, the blocking molecule prevented SdrC proteins from recognizing other bacteria, which stopped the staphylococci from growing as biofilm communities.

Lead investigator Dr. Joan Geoghegan said: “These new findings show that it is possible to stop bacteria from building communities using molecules that specifically target proteins attached to the surface of the bacteria. This exciting breakthrough will inform the design of new, targeted approaches to prevent biofilm formation by staphylococci and [will] reduce the incidence of medical device-related infection.”

Source: Trinity College Dublin; March 20, 2017.