Problem: Each year, a million Americans suffer infections related to medical devices such as the intravenous lines that deliver chemotherapy and liquid nutrition. Adding slow-release antibiotic coatings to the devices helps prevent such infections, but the coatings become inactive when all the drugs have been released, and bacteria can become resistant to them.
Solution: As a graduate student at MIT, Christopher Loose created a design tool to optimize formulations of naturally occurring antibiotics called antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), and developed a way to use them in medical devices. Found in bacteria, human sweat, and plants, these short proteins puncture bacteria like balloons. The mechanism is nonspecific, so microbes have trouble developing resistance to the peptides.
But AMPs are too expensive for routine oral or intravenous use. So Loose incorporated optimized peptides into coatings for medical devices, which are effective with a small amount of peptide. When bacteria approach a hip implant or catheter coated with the peptides, they “see a bed of nails,” says Loose. The coating doesn’t release the drugs the way typical antibacterial coatings do, so its activity is potentially permanent. Loose founded SteriCoat to commercialize the technology and is currently its chief technology officer; the company is testing coated intravenous lines in animals and hopes to bring them to market in 2011.