Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have developed a new material that prevents wound infections – a specially designed hydrogel, which works against all types of bacteria, including bacteria resistant to antibiotics. The new material offers great hope for tackling a growing global problem.
The World Health Organization describes antibiotic resistant bacteria as one of the biggest threats to global health. To deal with this problem, we need to change the way we use antibiotics, and new sustainable medical technologies need to be developed.
“After testing our new hydrogel on different types of bacteria, we observed a high level of efficacy, including against those that have become resistant to antibiotics,” says Martin Andersson, research director for the study and professor in the Department. of chemistry and chemical engineering. at Chalmers University of Technology.
Research and development of the material has been going on for many years in Martin Andersson’s group at Chalmers, increasingly along the way, with particular emphasis on the possibilities of wound care. From now on, the important results are published in the form of a scientific article in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.
The main focus of studies so far has been to explore new medical technology solutions to help reduce the use of systemic antibiotics. Resistant bacteria cause what is called nosocomial infection – a potentially fatal disease with increasing incidence worldwide.
Mimic the natural immune system
The active ingredient in the new bactericidal material is antimicrobial peptides, small proteins that are naturally found in our immune system.
“With these types of peptides, there is a very low risk that bacteria will develop resistance against them, as they only affect the outermost membrane of the bacteria. This is perhaps the main reason why they are so interesting to work with, ”says Martin Andersson.
Researchers have long tried to find ways to use these peptides in medical devices, but so far without much success. The problem is, they break down quickly when they come in contact with bodily fluids such as blood. The current study describes how the researchers managed to overcome the problem through the development of a nanostructured hydrogel, in which the peptides are permanently bonded, creating a protective environment.
“The material shows great promise. It is harmless to the body’s own cells and gentle on the skin. In our measurements, the protective effect of the hydrogel on antimicrobial peptides is clear – the peptides degrade much more slowly when they’re linked to it, ”says Edvin Blomstrand, a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers, and one of the lead authors of the article.
“We expected good results, but we were very positively surprised by the efficiency of the material,” adds Martin Andersson.
According to the researchers, this new material is the first medical device to successfully use antimicrobial peptides in a clinically and commercially viable manner. There are many varied and promising clinical application possibilities.
Start-up Amferia takes research from the laboratory to the market
In recent years, basic research on the antimicrobial peptide hydrogel has paralleled the commercial development of innovation through the spin-off company Amferia AB.
The company was founded in 2018 by Martin Andersson with Saba Atefyekta and Anand Kumar Rajasekharan, both of whom defended their theses at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers.
The material and idea, which is currently being developed as an antibacterial patch, has generated interest around the world, attracting significant investment and receiving several awards. The company is working intensively to bring the material to market so that it can benefit society at large.
Before the new material can benefit hospitals and patients, clinical studies are needed, which are ongoing. CE marking of the material should be completed in 2022. In addition, the wound patch version of the new material is being tested in veterinary care, for the treatment of pets. Amferia AB is already working with a number of veterinary clinics across Europe where the hydrogel is currently being tested.
“Amferia recently entered into a strategic partnership with the largest Swedish distributor of premium medical and diagnostic devices to jointly launch these wound care products for the Swedish veterinary market in 2021,” says Martin Andersson.
Learn more about antimicrobial peptides and new material
The beneficial properties of antimicrobial peptides have been known for several decades, and thousands of different varieties found in the natural immune system of humans, animals and plants have been discovered. Researchers have long tried to mimic and use their natural function to prevent and treat infections without having to use traditional antibiotics. However, as peptides are broken down as soon as they come in contact with blood or other bodily fluids, successful clinical use has proven elusive. The researchers knew that smart new solutions were needed to protect the peptide from degradation. The new study material has been shown to work very well, allowing peptides to be applied directly to wounds and wounds on the body, with the effect of both preventing and treating infection. The material is also non-toxic, so it can be used directly on the skin. The potential of this new material is also reflected in the flexibility it offers for different types of products.
“So far, we have primarily considered the material as a wound care dressing, but we are working on a new study examining the potential of a wound care spray,” says Edvin Blomstrand.