A novel way to administer drugs would help better target treatments for infections such as MRSA and could help stem the dangerous rise of antibiotic-resistance, according to scientists in our Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology.

In two recent papers, published in Drug Delivery and Translational Research, the researchers explain their concept of a ‘smart wound dressing’ which would allow clinicians to better deliver drugs directly to the site of an infection.

Ordinarily, even for a localised infection, antibiotics are spread throughout the whole body, given either orally or by injection at a much larger dose than would be required if the drug was administered locally. This blanket approach to administering antibiotics can have side-effects and is a contributing factor to the dangerous rise in drug-resistant bacteria; something which the UK’s Chief Medical Officer highlighted in March as a ‘ticking time bomb’.

Using a smart wound dressing – an electro spun mat - developed by the scientists, clinicians would in the future be able to deliver small, but effective, amounts of an antibiotic to a local site of infection without the need for systemic delivery.

These mats are unique in that they are made of three layers, each containing the drug but each performing a different function. Whilst the outer layers could release the drug in a ‘burst’, something which would kill the majority of bacteria present in a wound, the inner layers would enable a more sustained release of a drug, killing any remaining bacteria and preventing recolonisation of the wound.

Through the latest findings the researchers have developed both non-biodegradable and biodegradable wound dressings. Both could have important uses in cases where wound dressings need to be removed after use, for example in non-healing ulcers, or in invasive surgical procedures including orthopaedics and dental surgery.

In both papers the scientists have shown how such mats can kill a clinically isolated MRSA strain. However, they have also shown how biofilms of dense colonies of bacteria, often present in non-healing wounds and which are generally much harder to treat than normal infections, could also be tackled by this approach.

Commenting on their findings, Dr Paul De Bank said: “Biofilms are a real clinical problem and are a causative factor in the failure of chronic wounds to respond to treatment. In effect, they form a biological shield that protects the bacteria within. Our invention has been shown to break through this barrier to kill the bacteria, and is the first report we’re aware of that demonstrates established biofilms being killed by this type of approach.

“At this stage we may be a number of years away from seeing our smart dressings used in practice, but we are excited by the future potential we’ve demonstrated.”

Through separate research, scientists from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry are currently crowd-funding to use large amounts of data (‘Big Data’) to better diagnose the toxicity of superbug infections, like MRSA.

Dr De Bank added: “In the future, by using Big Data, clinicians will be able to identify which bacteria is causing an infection more rapidly and, therefore, know which drugs these infections are are susceptible to. By combining this approach with our smart wound dressing, which could be adapted to deliver different antibiotics, we could dramatically improve outcomes for patients whilst at the same time stemming the dangerous rise of antibiotic resistance in superbugs.”

To find out more about how researchers from the University are trying to crowd fund Big Data research into superbugs see the Indiegogo Project: ‘Using Big Data to fight Superbugs’.

To access the latest papers related to this research:

Killing bacteria within biofilms by sustained release of tetracycline from triple-layered electrospun micro/nanofibre matrices of polycaprolactone and poly(ethylene-co-vinyl acetate) - http://opus.bath.ac.uk/37273/

Zein/polycaprolactone electrospun matrices for localised controlled delivery of tetracyclin - http://opus.bath.ac.uk/37607/