Glass vials, each filled with about two tablespoons of brownish-orange liquid and stored in an LSU lab, could drastically cut back on bacterial infections, reduce the need for amputations and save hospital patients millions of dollars per year in surgical costs.
LSU doctors and bio-engineers have collaborated to design what is called a “theranostic” nano-particle — both therapeutic and diagnostic — to fight bacterial infections.
When injected into a patient, the minuscule particle bounces randomly around the body, glancing off different bacterium until it encounters the precise infection it’s “looking for” and then neutralizes it with antibiotics. The particle is undergoing testing and could be several years away from mainstream use.
The benefits of the particle are threefold: it allows doctors to pinpoint the exact location of an infection; it cuts down on the quantity of drugs needed to treat infected patients; and it reduces the amount of drug resistance bacteria often develop.
The World Health Organization considers antibiotic resistance one of the most pressing health care issues in the world with hospitals being some of the likeliest places to be exposed.
The process in creating the particle began about four years ago when doctors from the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans approached faculty at LSU’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering about finding a way to better treat bacterial infections.
Dr. Vinod Dasa, an orthopedic surgeon, said patients undergoing total joint replacements are among the most susceptible to contracting bacterial infections.
“It’s almost a disaster for the patient when that happens,” Dasa said.
Those patients have to undergo multiple surgeries to correct the problem including removal of the new hip or knee and then temporarily replacing the joint with a “chunk of cement” coated with antibiotics.
Patients are then put on an antibiotic regimen and sent home for two or three months before returning to the hospital to have a new replacement joint surgically implanted, Dasa said. If that process doesn’t work, the patient has to repeat those steps until the infection is cured, he added.
The cost to treat MRSA, one of the most common bacteria strains, can exceed $100,000 per infection, Dasa said.
Doctors will perform 600,000 total joint replacement surgeries in the United States this year, with that number expected to rise to 3.5 million by the year 2030, Dasa said. Between 1 percent and 2 percent — about 6,000 this year and 35,000 by 2030 — of those patients will contract a bacterial infection, Dasa said.
“So you can see this is a very important issue,” he said.
Bio-engineer Daniel Hayes, an assistant engineering professor at LSU, led the seven-person team on the Baton Rouge campus that developed the particle.
Each particle can be targeted to treat a distinct bacteria strain, including MRSA, Hayes said. When injected into the patient, a MRSA-targeted particle will float through the bloodstream, bumping into everything until it finds the bacteria it’s “searching for.”
At that point, the particle will stick to the bacteria “like a lock and key,” Hayes said.
Once the particle is attached, the silver inside it disrupts the “bio-processes” of the bacteria, Hayes said. The particle’s iron core allows doctors to see where in a person’s body the infection is located with an MRI machine.
The “targeted approach” could be exponentially more comfortable to future patients, Hayes explained, as the current “broad spectrum” method of treating infections employs a “kill everything” approach where doctors who have trouble zeroing in on the site of infections inject patients with antibiotics in a generalized fashion.
Hayes said the particle has been tested on animals, but he estimates it could be another four, five or even 10 years before the particle is cleared for widespread use.
“There’s really no way to speed up the process. In the near term, we’d like to move to human trials,” Hayes said.