Can Silver Nanotechnology Reduce Infection?

Published on: 24 June, 2015


This is a question that has been asked many times in clinical discussions regarding the use of continuous local anaesthetic infusion devices.

A recent article published in Orthopaedics This Week describes advanced technology to apply silver nanotechnology to reduce infection rates. With increasing numbers of joint replacement surgery occurring, combined with the high costs of treating an infection, all avenues to reduce infection should be explored.

The article referenced important research being conducted at the North Carolina State University, saying Biomedical Engineers are using nanotechnology to build a germ-killer directly into the orthopaedic implants.

Known for its anti-bacterial properties, silver-titanium is the major ingredient. “Silver has long been known for its anti-bacterial properties, but first it must ionize to be effective”, said Rohan Shirwaiker, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Ph.D candidate George Tan. Their plan is to use a battery-activated device to power an army of microscopic germ-killers. They hope that even antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA can be eliminated. They describe the power source as being similar to a watch battery which can be integrated into the design of the implant. Initial testing by the two researchers has shown a 99% decrease in bacteria growth on and around implants after 24 hours and an infection-free environment after 48 hours. These researchers hope that the widespread application of their system could result in a milestone achievement in the fight against infection.

Whilst the R&D required to apply this technology would be a lengthy and costly process, there are a number of applications of nanotechnology available today that may also reduce infection in total joint replacement.

In 2006, I-Flow (now Halyard Health) introduced nanotechnology with the silver coating of catheters. By coating the catheters with a proprietary silver technology, the use of the SilverSoaker™ Antimicrobial Catheters may destroy or inhibit the growth of microorganisms both on the inner and outer surfaces of the catheter. This should certainly alleviate any questions regarding the use of continuous infusion devices increasing the rate of infection, but can they reduce the infection in a total joint arthroplasty scenario?

Whilst that question remains unanswered, with a current infection rate following arthroplasty of about 1%, this therapy is certainly worth considering.

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