News

Infection alert in catheters could tackle hospital superbugs

A new infection alert system in catheters could prevent serious infections in millions of hospital patients worldwide. The system, detailed in a new paper in “Biosensors and Bioelectronics,” changes the color of the urine so patients and healthcare providers can see easily if bacteria are starting to block the catheter. Designed by Dr. Toby Jenkins and his colleagues at the University of Bath, the new catheter infection alert system provides a means of early detection, so the catheter can be changed and the infection treated before a person becomes unwell. “Catheter-related infections are a serious problem, especially if the bacteria are resistant to antibiotics,” said Jenkins. “We hope that with this simple-to-use sensor system we can ultimately make a real difference to patients' lives.” Over time bacteria can build a layer called a biofilm inside the catheter tubes that eventually blocks them. The urine can't escape and pushes back into the kidneys where the bacteria can cause kidney failure, body-wide infection and death. Up to half of people who use catheters long-term have problems with blockages caused by bacteria, but there is currently no way to detect potential blockages before they cause problems. The new coating detects biofilms built by a bacterium called Proteus mirabilis, the most common cause of catheter blockage. The system gives advanced warning of a catheter blockage 10 to 12 hours before it happens. The coating is made up of two layers. The first reacts to changes in urine caused by the bacteria; the second layer releases the dye. The dyed urine gathers in the collection bag, turning the urine bright yellow. The color change reveals the infection. Biofilms built by bacteria are not easy to treat. They avoid the natural defenses of the immune system and can't be broken down by antibiotics. Jenkins is optimistic about the benefits of the system: "Our new coating works with existing catheter designs and gives a clear, early visual warning of infection before a catheter is blocked. It could dramatically reduce the number of infections resulting from bacterial blockages."

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New device prevents damage while securing tubes

The U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research has developed a novel device for securing medical tubes and catheters intubated within a patient that will prevent damage to the incisors as well as to the soft tissue around the corners of the mouth.  Burn patients often have problems breathing on their own due to scorched esophagi, damaged airways due to smoke inhalation, or organ failures. Therefore, it becomes necessary to intubate the patient so that they can breathe. Patients have lost their incisors due to prolonged forceful clamping of the jaw on the semi-rigid bite block. This new device moves the bite blocks (one for each side) from the front teeth to the molars, to capitalize on the greater strength of these teeth to prevent tooth damage. Positioning the bite blocks at the molars also prevents the incisor teeth from biting and occluding the endotracheal or nasogastric tubes. In addition to the potential loss of teeth, the current method of securing endotracheal tubes often leaves patients with cuts or tears in and around their mouths. This device prevents damage by attaching the bite blocks to a framework that protrudes from the patient’s mouth and that provides attachment sites for straps to secure the device to the patient, and a track-and-clamp system to secure the endotracheal or nasogastric tubes. The attachment sites are an improvement in capability over the current state of the art, in which the tubes are taped to the bite block and the combined structure is then taped to the patient.  The Army is seeking a partner interested in commercializing this technology.

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New research uses graphene oxide to fight bacteria

Scientists at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Rome are studying graphene oxide in the hopes of creating bacteria-killing catheters and medical devices. Coating surgical tools with this carbon-based compound could kill bacteria, reducing the need for antibiotics, decreasing the rates of post-operative infections, and speeding recovery times. "We want to make materials that will help patients and medical professionals," said Valentina Palmieri, a biotechnologist at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. Graphene oxide, a form of graphene with molecular oxygen incorporated into it, protects against infection by destroying bacteria before it gets inside the body. The graphene oxide wraps around the bacteria, puncturing its membrane. A broken membrane prevents the bacteria from growing and often kills it. "The bacteria lose their complex structure and die," Palmieri added. "And since graphene is just carbon (a building block of life) its cytotoxicity against human cells is much lower compared to any drug-based antimicrobial therapy."  Researchers decided to use graphene oxide because it is very stable in a water solution, making it safe to interact with human cells. Graphene specifically attacks bacterial cells, while sparing human cells, and the mechanism behind this specificity is still unclear, Palmieri said. Current theories include that the material interacts more favorably with the bacterial cell wall or that mammalian cells have evolved multiple repair mechanisms to survive the chemical oxidation damage that graphene induces.  Graphene is also more eco-friendly. Traditional methods of preventing infection include antibiotic therapy and tools coated with silver, both of which are toxic to the environment, Palmieri said.

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Wartime medical device is saving lives at home

A patient at the University of California Davis Medical Center was losing blood from multiple gunshot wounds, and doctors feared he was not going to survive long enough for them to operate. The newly approved REBOA catheter was used to restore blood flow to his critical organs so they could save his life.  "Air Force research conducted at the CIF directly contributed to saving the life of this 28-year-old father of six," said Air Force Maj. Timothy Williams, 60th SGCS vascular surgeon. "I have done trauma surgery all of my professional life, including work at three civilian level I trauma centers and three deployments. I can, without reservation, state that REBOA saved his life." The CIF is the Clinical Investigation Facility located at David Grant USAF Medical Center, one of seven Air Force medical facilities with formal clinical investigation programs and resources.  Approved by the FDA in January, the REBOA (resuscitative endovascular balloon occlusion of the aorta) catheter was developed by researchers to slow bleeding, without damaging vital organs, so a patient can receive life-saving care. This device is inserted into a hemorrhaging vessel and stops or slows the blood flow to that injury while allowing blood flow to continue to vital organs and other body parts.   The idea originated at the 59th Medical Wing at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, the main hub for autopsies performed on combat casualties. Air Force Maj. Lucas Neff, 60th SGCS vascular surgeon, explained: "The autopsies showed that the No. 1 cause of potentially survivable deaths by service members is noncompressible hemorrhaging in the chest and core. We have worked on techniques (with the REBOA) that allow us to control the amount of blood flow that can pass while using the catheter. It's like a faucet, where you can turn the flow down in areas where there is bleeding without turning it completely off, allowing blood to flow to other important areas."  Williams and Neff were deployed together to Afghanistan in 2014. "I don't know if I would've gone down this road of research if it wasn't for that deployment," Williams said. "Having actually been there and seen the casualties firsthand brought me to this research."

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Will solar power supplant fossil fuels as a primary energy source?

This week's Question: The US now has 1 million solar power installations, and some industry experts expect the number of solar-power systems to increase dramatically in the span of two years. “By the end of 2020, the amount of installed solar capacity will be 300 percent higher than today,” said Dan Whitten, vice president of communications at the Solar Energy Industries Association, noting that the nationwide number grew 10 times between 2008 and 2015. This month, the Swedish furniture giant Ikea also recently announced the opening of its “Solar Shop,” which will sell panels and setup services. Two major challenges for the solar panel industry have been cost and capacity; compared to fossil fuel costs, solar panel installations can be time-consuming and expensive. What do you think? Will solar power supplant fossil fuels as a primary energy source? 

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'Smart' Paper Responds to Gestures

Researchers from the University of Washington, Disney Research, and Carnegie Mellon University have added sensing capabilities  to a piece of paper. Small radio frequency (RFID) tags are placed, printed, or drawn onto the "PaperID" technology to create interactive, lightweight interfaces.

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NASA Selects Eight Aerospace Technology Proposals for Investment

NASA has selected eight technology proposals for investment. The ideas have the potential to transform future aerospace missions, introduce new capabilities, and significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems.

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