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The Medical Bond: Sutures that fight off infections 1,000 times better than existing stitches

New Contributor III
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Few people like going to the hospital, whether it’s for major surgery or just to stitch up a cut. But a recent paper in ACS’ journal Langmuir reports a development that could make the post-operation recovery process less complicated.

In 2009 alone, surgeons performed 48 million in-patient operations in the U.S. Most of these required stitches, or sutures, to close up the operation site and start the healing process. That’s not even counting stitches for out-patient procedures, like for a deep cut near a toddler’s eye from the edge of a glass coffee table (many years later, I still haven’t forgotten that — ouch!).

Infections at surgical sites are one of the most common post-surgical complications that keep patients hospitalized longer and boost hospital bills. Some infections just involve the skin, but others go deeper to the underlying organs and body tissues. The treatment? A course of antibiotics or even another round of surgery. Of course, antibiotics have their own disadvantages, namely the possibility of developing super-bugs — bacteria that shrug off most existing antibiotics. And no one wants to undergo additional surgeries.

To solve this problem, suture manufacturers typically add an antibiotic called triclosan to the threads themselves, but its use in many consumer products over the years has led to the emergence of super-bugs that are immune to it. Triclosan also can be absorbed into the body, raising concerns about possible adverse health effects. Another downside to triclosan: It slows the growth of bacteria, but does not actually kill those already present.

That’s why Professor Gregory Tew and colleagues turned to PAMBM, a new substance designed from naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides that can kill a wide range of bacteria. And because of the way it works, PAMBM has a very low chance of causing bacterial resistance.

The report in Langmuir described laboratory tests in which PAMBM reduced the amount of bacteria compared to triclosan by 1,000 times. In a head-to-head test with triclosan-coated sutures, those coated with PAMBM were much more effective against bacteria. “As bacterial resistance to current agents continues to increase and with resistance to triclosan now documented, the discovery of new antimicrobial agents that remain active in biomedical device coatings is essential,” say the researchers.

“New Bactericidal Surgical Suture Coating,” Langmuir


Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock