Biofilm Basics and Treatment

Abby Nicodemus (11 AM Micro) found a news story via Scientific American, describing recent research published in the journal Proc. National Academy Sciences. The compounds described are being assessed for their antimicrobial properties. Because they are general inhibitors of microbial growth which operate by creating an environment unfavorable for growth, it is possible that this approach will not lead to antimicrobial resistance the way so many other compounds do. Here is Abby’s summary:

Biofilm growing on a grain of sand; image via Flickr

The focus of health care is to “[maintain] health by the treatment and prevention of disease especially by trained professionals”, so any scientific advance in the field of bacteria and disease has the opportunity to contribute to the health care field. While scanning through the current topics of microbiology, I stumbled upon an article titled “Liquid Salts Bypass Skin to Treat Infections” and it sparked my interest. Diseases and treatment of diseases being what we are studying in lecture, I thought it would make sense to discuss it in my bonus summary.

The first paragraph of this article discusses biofilms, “packed communities of microbial cells that grow on both living and inert surfaces” (Liquid Salts), which reminded me of the samples we took for the third lab. The significance of biofilms is the part they play in human infections, they are responsible for 4/5 of human infections. A large majority of microbiology focuses on human diseases and treatment. The source of infections and diseases is incredibly relevant in understanding and making scientific discoveries. Knowing more about these infections can help to lower hospital visits. It is known that biofilm infections are responsible for “almost one out of every ten visits” (Liquid Salts).

Specifically regarding biofilms, the structure of these bacterium increase their ability to fight off any treatment, including antibiotics. Skin, our protective barrier, does a more than okay job of keeping things outside of the body, making skin treatment options limited. However, innovations in science have made new categories of treatment a reality. This discovery involving salt absorption through skin widens the possibilities of fighting off infection.

Many of the ionic formulations brought forth by Mitragotri and his team showed effectiveness against treating many bacterial microfilm infections. This study has helped to tie a number of loose ends because “individual parts…have been demonstrated before, but this study draws them together in a very coherent strategy”. Ideas have been proposed involving this method, but only recently have discoveries given those ideas significance and the reality to help the millions of people affected by these diseases.

This technique decreases the amount of bacteria in the body by almost completely eliminating biofilms and minimizing the release of toxins into the human body. Currently, only specific ionic salts have been discovered and engineered to fight infection, but more research can lead to a broader spectrum of treatments for a wider range of infections. Certain salts and ions will penetrate the skin and target certain biofilms more efficiently than others.

Advances are being made in the medical field every day, but this particular discovery has the potential to change the world of disease and help many more people who suffer from bacterial infections and diseases. By eliminating biofilm infections, we can reduce the amount of money spent on treatments and the number of people admitted to hospitals for these kinds of infections will also go down.


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on September 18, 2014, in Guest Post, Microbes in the News. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. It was a shock to learn that one out of every ten hospital visits is from a biofilm infection. There are biofilms around us everyday, in the kitchen sink, all over our feet when we take a shower and I never seem to realize their prevalence and harmful possibility over us. The fact that salt absorption through the skin can help treat these biofilm infections is very interesting because there are few ways to treat infections through the skin because it is such a powerful barrier. I hope as scientist advance with this knowledge they will be able to come up with specific iodine treatments for the variety of biofilm infections, and maybe even use this method to treat other various diseases.

    • The BIG problem with any chemical method of control like the one described in this summary is that they will not demonstrate selective toxicity to pathogens; that is, they will generally be unable to discriminate between a bacterial cell and a human cell. This means that they may only effective if used topically.

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