A research team at the US-based Stevens Institute of Technology has developed a microgel coating for implants to release antibiotics and potentially reduce post-surgical infection rates in patients.

The new self-defensive surface involves microgels that can absorb some antibiotics. These microgels are controlled by electrical charges, where the electrical properties of an approaching bacterium induce the release of antibiotic payload.

Treatment of post-surgical infections is considered difficult because microbes colonise on surfaces and form antibiotic-resistant layers. The new approach is intended to help address this challenge by killing bacteria even before they start colonising.

“It only takes one bacterium to cause an infection. But if we can avoid infection until healing is complete, and infection becomes a lot less likely.”

Stevens Institute of Technology materials science professor Matthew Libera said: “It only takes one bacterium to cause an infection. But if we can avoid infection until healing is complete, and infection becomes a lot less likely.”

The researchers said that the tiny microgels can be used with a variety of medical devices such as heart valves, tissue scaffolds and surgical sutures.

The new method is targeted and releases tiny quantities of antibiotics, which is contrary to the standard treatments that introduce antibiotics to the whole body.

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The targeted method is expected to mitigate the problem of creating superbugs.

The team added that the microgels also promote tissue growth around treated surfaces and help in healing. It is theorised that the new approach will allow surgeons to coat the devices immediately prior to implanting, using antibiotics tailored to the individual risk factors of a patient.

The researchers are currently working on refining the microgels to facilitate delivery of a range of antibiotics. Only in-vitro testing of the new approach had been performed.

The research has been partially funded the US Army.