Selenium could blast back bacteria on catheters and endotracheal tubes

Some of the biggest innovations likely to come to the medical device industry may come from enhancing some of the most basic products in the sector. A Brown University scientist and his team may have hit on something just along those lines, by coating catheters and endotracheal tubes with selenium nanoparticles to beat back bad bacteria.

The idea has caught on to the point that Rhode Island startup Axena Technologies--launched by former Brown graduate students--has licensed the intellectual property relating to the research.

Thomas Webster, a professor of engineering and orthopaedics at Brown, was the senior author of a paper that successfully tested the idea in the lab. While selenium has been known to fight bacteria, his study notes it had never been tried before as an actual antibiotic coating for medical devices. He said the idea could help, for example, to keep an endotracheal tube in a patient over a longer period, if the fear of infection is diminished.

"The longer we can delay or inhibit completely the formation of these [bacterial] colonies, the more likely your immune system will clear them," he said in a statement.

The idea is intriguing, because selenium, as the research team notes, is inexpensive and occurs naturally in the body anyway. For the study, the researchers coated polycarbonate with selenium nanoparticles (polycarbonate is used to make both catheters and endotracheal tubes). They found that the coatings helped reduce cultured populations of staphylococcus aureus bacteria, compared to uncoated controls after 24, 48 and 72 hours. After more than a day, those reductions reached 90%. That number dropped a bit to 85% after 72 hours after spiking at 48 hours, but the end result is still pretty high.

It could be a while before this gets tested in people. But the research continues. Next, the concept will be tried in animal studies. For more details from the initial study, read the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research Part A.

- read the release
- check out the journal abstract