Researchers from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s have developed a new antimicrobial coating which can be applied to urinary catheters and other medical devices to significantly reduce pain and lower the risk of infection.
The unique coating has the potential to greatly improve the quality of life for the millions of catheter users worldwide.
Created using a unique mix of polymers the coating ensures low friction to reduce the pain and discomfort of catheterisation, as well as containing antimicrobial properties which protect the user from harmful microbes that can cause disease and, in some cases, even death.
The findings of the team at Queen’s, who worked in collaboration with researchers at the University of Leeds, were published today (Thursday 5 March) in ACS Applied Bio Materials.
Urinary tract infections associated with catheter use are one of the most common types of infection that affect people staying in hospital. The risk is particularly high if the catheter is left in place continuously (an indwelling catheter), with approximately 50% of all long-term catheterised patients experiencing recurrent episodes of catheter infections and blockages.
Dr Nicola Irwin (pictured right above), who is a Lecturer in Pharmaceutical Materials Science and first author on the paper, said: “Patients with poor control over their bladder function, for example those with urinary retention or drainage problems caused by neurological conditions such as spina bifida or spinal cord injuries, may need catheterised up to eight times a day.
“Insertion and removal of poorly lubricated catheters causes friction between the urethral walls and the device surface, which is not only extremely painful for the patient, but upon regular use can lead to damage and narrowing of the urethra, bleeding and infection.”
As well as being extremely painful, these low-level infections, overtime, can cause antibiotic resistance in these users.
In 2015, Dr Irwin was one of seven winners of a Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise fellowship, which gave her £85,000 to develop her research in the area.
At that time there were around 26,000 intermittent catheter users in the UK – patients who insert and remove disposable catheters themselves, between four and eight times per day. In the USA there were an estimated 300,000 intermittent catheter users.
Professor Colin McCoy (above left), Chair in Biomaterials Chemistry and co-author of the research, explained: “People who use medical devices such as catheters on a daily basis are at high risk of persistent low-level infections, which, overtime, can cause antibiotic resistance.
“Antibiotic resistance is one the biggest global threats to society today and leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased risk of infection and even death.
“It is vitally important we provide an alternative to the currently used devices, which have not changed much since their introduction almost 100 years ago despite their widespread clinical and many associated limitations.”
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