UP to 25 per cent of patients have a urinary catheter inserted during their hospital stay, with many of them going on to develop urinary tract infections associated with the use of the catheter.
“It’s not surprising really, because as soon as you insert foreign material into the body bacteria will grow,” explained Dr Ingo Koeper, lecturer in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences and researcher in the Flinders Centre for NanoScale Science and Technology, based at Flinders University.
Current medical practice is to regularly change catheters in an effort to prevent infection. However, this is uncomfortable for patients and is expensive for the health system.
In the United States, it is estimated that replacing catheters costs the health system $400 to $500 million a year.
Dr Koeper and his team, in conjunction with Flinders Medical Centre's Head of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Professor David Gordon, believe the incidence of catheter-associated bacterial infection can be dramatically reduced with a simple modification – coating the catheter with a non-toxic bacteria-resistant chemical compound.
He said the research project – boosted with a recent $30,000 grant from The Repat Foundation – came about after he learnt a colleague in the water desalination field was using a similar technique on desalination membranes.
“We are using a similar polymer and a similar method, and early laboratory results have been promising, suggesting that we can cut bacterial growth by 95 per cent,” Dr Koeper said. “But now we need to determine that the product we are using to coat the catheter is safe for human use.”
As part of the research, the team is working closely with urology doctors and nurses based at the Repatriation General Hospital.
“We are currently analysing the data of urology patients at the hospital, and are interviewing medical staff about current catheter practice,” he said. “We also want to determine why existing catheters with non-bacterial properties aren’t used very often.”
Once the team has developed a suitable chemical compound, the polymer will need to undergo comprehensive clinical trials to ensure its safety and efficacy.
“It’s hard to put a timeline on it, but we’re hoping that within five years we may have a new bacteria-resistant catheter on the market.”