Divided We Conquer

By Gary Hodgins

This is the second part of the 2 part blog. The first section, “United They Stand”, went over the leading reason for hospital-acquired infections. This section will explore ways to solve this issue.

Firstly, it is foolhardy to suspect that we can overcome these challenges created by the existence of biofilms.  Our best hope is to utilize innovation to “control” rather than “overcome” these challenges.  Our research partners at the University of Calgary, Ryerson University, and the University of Guelph have enabled a better understanding of the structure, life-cycle, and behaviour of biofilms.  Since the slimy protective coating is an exopolysaccharide, a complex sugar of sorts, we have been experimenting with engineered enzymes to convert the exopolysaccharide to a simple glucose.
Another area of investigation has arisen from the research that reveals that biofilms are generally a response to stressors.  When the stressor is removed, the exopolysaccharide breaks down and releases the microorganisms into the surrounding environment.  We have been attempting to discover the mechanism and chemistry of this release to be able to replicate it artificially.  The most promising control mechanism that we have identified is continual cleaning with specially-formulated chemistry that removes early-stage biofilms that are not fully encased in a mature exopolysaccharide matrix.  This chemistry is complex and proprietary at this juncture, but, suffice it to say, both cleaning and disinfecting in concert seems to be part of the key to obtaining better outcomes.
Perhaps the most common high-risk area is in long, narrow-lumened devices, such as flexible endoscopes.  Statistical data seems to point out that more than 40% of colonoscopes present an opportunity for cross-infections to occur due to residual bioburden.  This is, almost certainly, as a result of biofilms.  The scary truth is the fact that a biofilm can shelter microorganisms in these devices so perfectly that even swabbing the channels will reveal “no growth” – the measure of clean.

Gary Hodgins’ company, Pharmax Limited, is a pharmaceutical manufacturer specializing in applications related to infection prevention and control in healthcare settings.

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