Biofilms on medical implants
Biofilms on medical implants are a major concern. 80% of all bacterial infections in humans have the capacity to grow as biofilms.
Medical implants are devices placed inside or outside the human body that replace or support a damaged biological structure. They can be made from a number of different materials including plastic, metal and ceramics, and can be temporary or permanent.
Whilst implants provide huge health benefits, complications can occur after they have been implanted. These include rejection, malfunction of biosensors, inflammation, spread of infectious diseases and painful nerve damage. Moreover, bacteria can colonise and grow inside these devices as biofilms causing serious infections. Bacteria in biofilms are very hard to kill and make the treatment of these infections difficult.
Medical biofilms can grow on prosthetic implants, biosensors, catheters, tracheal tubes, endoscopes, orthopaedic implants, dental implants and medical equipment. They were first noticed growing on implanted medical devices such as prosthetic heart valves, joint prosthetics, catheters and pacemakers in the 1980s. You can see some examples of medical biofilms here.
Fungal biofilms can also cause infections by growing on implanted devices. Yeast species such as Candida species can grow on breast implants, pacemakers and prosthetic cardiac valves.
Medical device-associated infections, which are responsible for a large proportion of hospital-acquired infections, cause high rates of morbidity and mortality, as well as an economic burden on healthcare services (Percival et al., 2015; Arciola et al., 2018). So, preventing these infections is critically important.
The use of antibiotics prior to surgery can be beneficial in preventing infections but does not work when the bacteria are resistant.
Further reading on biofilms and medical devices
Donlan, R.M. and Costerton, J.W. (2002) ‘Biofilms: survival mechanisms of clinically relevant microorganisms’, Clinical Microbiology Reviews, vol. 15(2), pp. 167-93, https://doi.org/10.1128/CMR.15.2.167-193.2002.
Percival, S.L., Suleman, L., Vuotto, C. and Donelli, G. (2015) ‘Healthcare-associated infections, medical devices and biofilms: risk, tolerance and control’, Journal of Medical Microbiology, vol. 64(4), pp. 323-34, https://doi.org/10.1099/jmm.0.000032.
Arciola, C. R., Campoccia, D. and Montanaro, L. (2018) ‘Implant infections: adhesion, biofilm formation and immune evasion’, Nature Reviews Microbiology, vol. 16, pp. 397-409, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-018-0019-y.
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