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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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VA Investigates If Sharks Hold Secret to Reducing Infections

February 21, 2013

As a result of a nearly $1 million grant from the Department of the Army, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) will initiate a study of a novel device to determine its ability to reduce catheter-related, urinary tract infections in spinal cord injury patients. 

“This unique, micropatterned foley catheter is styled after the skin of sharks,” said Rabih O. Darouiche, M.D., VA Distinguished Service Professor in the departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Medicine, and Surgery and the study’s overall principal investigator. “The scales on shark skin are arranged in a distinct diamond pattern with tiny riblets, which creates a surface upon which bacteria do not like to grow.”
Similar to other organisms, bacteria seek the path of least energy resistance. Research suggests that the microscopic pattern of shark skin keeps biofilms from forming because this unique pattern requires too much energy for bacteria to colonize. The consequence is that organisms find another place to grow or simply die from inability to signal to other bacteria.
While antibiotics have traditionally been used to fight infections, their overuse and abuse have contributed to the creation of superbugs such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant enterococci, and multi-resistant gram-negative bacteria. As bacteria become stronger, new and different strategies are needed to treat infections while contributing to an overall healthy environment to protect people.

Urinary tract infection is the most common complication in spinal cord injury patients and is the most frequent form of healthcare-acquired infection. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated roughly 1.7 million hospital-associated infections, from all types of microorganisms including bacteria, cause or contribute to 99,000 deaths each year.

This three-year randomized, controlled clinical trial will include 300 Veterans from the MEDVAMC and the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fl. The goal of the study approach is to reduce bacterial attachment, inhibit its survival, and hinder its touch transference onto catheters.

“Should the study yield promising results, the research conducted at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center could lead to a breakthrough in addressing not only the frequent infections patients with indwelling bladder catheters battle, but most hospital-acquired infections,” said Darouiche, who is also the founder and director of the Center for Prostheses Infection at Baylor College of Medicine.