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Electrical fields help kill biofilms.

Slime beware: Researchers have developed a way to kill even the most stubborn bacterial mats, also known as biofilms.

Biofilm bacteria, which cause a variety of medical and industrial problems, grow as a thin organic layer on inert surfaces ranging from water pipes to prosthetic implants (SN: 1/6/90, p.6). Shielded by protective slime, these bacteria often withstand the traditional treatments that eliminate their free-floating counterparts, says J. William Costerton, a microbiologist at the University of Calgary in Alberta.

Costerton and his co-workers have now developed an efficient and inexpensive technique to kill biofilm bacteria. Their method uses low-level electrical fields to push antibiotics or biocide solutions through the biofilm's protective slime, directly attacking the underlying bacteria.

The method could prevent chronic infections associated with internal prosthetic devises, says Costerton. The researchers propose several applications for their technique, including the creation of a small electrical field with electrodes directly attached to an implant. Costerton believes that a few days of such postoperative treatment could prevent severe infections, which currently may necessitate a second operation to remove and resterilize the device.

The researchers have tested their technique with prosthetic devices in animals, but six to 10 years of testing remain before it can receive FDA approval for routine use in humans, Costerton says. Within a couple of years, however, the technique may be used externally to sterilize medical devices, such as endoscopic probes, dental drills, and contact lenses, he says. The process is safer than heat sterilization for delicate instruments and may take as little as 10 minutes, he adds.

Costerton also predicts that industries may soon use higherlevel electrical fields in conjunction with currently used biocide chemicals. This could drastically reduce the required doses of these chemicals, which are expensive and potentially dangerous in large amounts, he says.
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Title Annotation:usage of low-level electrical fields to push antibiotics through protective slime
Author:Hoppe, Kathryn
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Sep 5, 1992
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