UGA researchers join CDC in battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

BacteriaResearchers at the University of Georgia will use a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create next-generation medical device coatings that combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The CDC announced today that it will award more than $14 million to 34 research teams across the nation to develop new approaches to combat antibiotic resistance. College of Engineering faculty members Hitesh Handa and Jason Locklin will receive $266,000 for their one-year project.

The UGA researchers plan to develop a coating for intravascular catheters that inhibits infection by releasing nitric oxide (NO), an endogenous gas molecule, while employing a durable, special polymer coating to prevent bacteria and other organisms from sticking to the catheter surface.

“Antibiotics are life-saving medicines, but the overuse of antibiotics threatens their future effectiveness through the selection of resistance,” said Dr. Clifford McDonald, Associate Director of Science for CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “As a means to promote the better use of antibiotics, this project is an example of applied research that has the potential to produce innovative public health approaches to better combat antibiotic resistance.”

The CDC estimates up to one-third of all indwelling catheters become infected, resulting in as many as 28,000 deaths per year. Catheters with antibiotic coatings are available but they have not proven completely effective at preventing infection. In addition, bacteria are developing resistance to many antibiotics.

Handa, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering, believes nitric oxide, a gas known as a potent antimicrobial agent among its many other biological roles, is a promising alternative to antibiotics in medical device applications.

“Our lab has been developing new biomedical polymers that can mimic the NO release that occurs in our bodies, such as in sinus cavities and by neutrophils and macrophages, which acts as a natural broad spectrum antimicrobial agent,” said Handa. “We are very excited about this CDC proposal which gives us an opportunity to combine our technology with Dr. Locklin’s polymeric coatings to produce a synergistic effect and ultimately create the next generation of antimicrobial catheters.”

In addition to fighting potential infections with nitric oxide, the UGA researchers say it’s important to inhibit bacteria and other organisms from adhering to catheters because their presence can trigger blood clotting and other complications.

Locklin, a professor in the College of Engineering, has developed a polymer coating with properties that mimic cell membranes, allowing it to mask the presence of a catheter in the body.

“Our materials contain two types of functionality, one that allows the coating to mimic the natural cell membrane structure to prevent adsorption of proteins and foreign bodies and another that provides us the ability to form durable coatings that are not easily removed and leach away from the catheter surface,” said Locklin. “These polymers, in combination with Dr. Handa’s unique NO-releasing materials and expertise, will allow us to study the prevention of infection on a wide variety of medical devices.”

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