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Selenium Controls Staph on Implant Material

June 22, 2012
Selenium solution

Qi Wang swirls a solution of selenium nanoparticles in the lab. Coatings of the nanoparticles appear effective in fighting staph bacteria in medical device materials, according to a new study. Credit: Webster Lab/Brown University

Qi Wang, graduate student in Chemistry, is first author on a paper showing how selenium, a naturally occurring element in the body, can help combat the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.

When selenium nanoparticles are used to coat polycarbonate, the material of catheters and endotracheal tubes, the results were significant reductions in cultured populations of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, sometimes by as much as 90 percent.

“We want to keep the bacteria from generating a biofilm,” said Thomas Webster, professor of engineering and orthopaedics, who studies how nanotechnology can improve medical implants. He is the senior author of the paper, published online this week in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research A.

Biofilms are notoriously tough colonies of bacteria to treat because they are often able to resist antibiotic drugs.

“The longer we can delay or inhibit completely the formation of these colonies, the more likely your immune system will clear them,” Webster said. “Putting selenium on there could buy more time to keep an endotracheal tube in a patient.”

Meanwhile, Webster said, because selenium is actually a recommended nutrient, it should be harmless in the body at the concentrations found in the coatings. Also, it is much less expensive than silver, a less biocompatible material that is the current state of the art for antibacterial medical device coatings.

Read more of David Orenstein's story about selenium combating staph.