Despite sterilization and aseptic procedures, bacterial infection remains a major impediment to the utility of medical implants including catheters, artificial prosthetics, and subcutaneous sensors. Indwelling devices are responsible for over half of all nosocomial infections, with an estimate of 1 million cases per year (2004) in the United States alone. Device-associated infections are the result of bacterial adhesion and subsequent biofilm formation at the implantation site. Although useful for relieving associated systemic infections, conventional antibiotic therapies remain ineffective against biofilms. Unfortunately, the lack of a suitable treatment often leaves extraction of the contaminated device as the only viable option for eliminating the biofilm. Much research has focused on developing polymers that resist bacterial adhesion for use as medical device coatings. This tutorial review focuses on coatings that release antimicrobial agents (i.e., active release strategies) for reducing the incidence of implant-associated infection. Following a brief introduction to bacteria, biofilms, and infection, the development and study of coatings that slowly release antimicrobial agents such as antibiotics, silver ions, antibodies, and nitric oxide are covered. The success and limitations of these strategies are highlighted.
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