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New antimicrobial webs developed by Syracuse University researchers sterilize medical implants for up to 14 days, reduce chance of infection

September 16, 2009

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Treatment of hospital-related infections in the United States costs up to $11 billion a year, and about half of those infections are related to medical devices implanted in patients. Until now, efforts to control drug-resistant biofilms on such devices have been largely unsuccessful.

New hydrogel mats developed by collaborators Pat Mather and Dacheng Ren of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute (SBI) at Syracuse University present a solution. The new materials combine microbe-killing silver nitrate with the surprising qualities of a hybrid electrospun fiber web that extends anti-infection protection for up to 14 days. 

“We’re excited about what this innovation can mean to patients and care providers,” says Mather, the director of SBI and the Milton and Ann Stevenson Professor of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering at Syracuse University. “When we tested alternative materials, we saw biofilms forming on the first day despite the silver nitrate. However, our new nanoscale fibers demonstrate a unique ability to prolong the effect of the silver coating.”

This innovation could significantly reduce infection rates among patients who need vascular or urinary catheters or who require bandages, wound dressings or reconstructive oral and bone surgery. It could also relieve patients’ pain and reduce nursing costs.

In addition, when used in wound dressings, the electrospun web can prevent or reduce damage to the skin at the edges of wounds. This can be caused by lateral wicking, an undesirable side effect of many wound dressings.

The benefits of the antimicrobial webs are expected to be applicable in other biomedical uses. A provisional patent on the new technology has been filed, and research is continuing into other polymers and antimicrobial agents. Readily adjustable chemical structures make it possible to tune hydrogel ingredients in the search for other valuable physical properties.

This finding is described in a publication to appear in the journal Biomacromolecules (DOI: 10.1021/bm900620w) and available online at  

Along with their roles at SBI, both Mather and Ren, assistant professor, are on the faculty of SU’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS).

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