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Improving body implants could save health care system millions

University at Buffalo
In the lab of Garwood Medical Devices at the UB Gateway Building, a researcher tests their Biofilm Disruption Device™ (BDD™) on a metal disk.";s:

Increasingly, metal is put into the human body, whether as screws to hold parts together or as implants, like knees or hips, to ease life. Increasingly, those implants are subject to a very bad health problem called a biofilm, which might require removal and replacement. However, a local company is now using University at Buffalo research to develop an alternative treatment to removal and replacement in the medical regulatory process.

Business start-up Garwood Medical has an electric gadget that sends a very low electrical current right into the metal implant. While it now requires eight hours of being hooked up to the device, it's better than being on a major antibiotic like vancomycin intravenously for weeks.

Garwood President and CEO Wayne Bacon said his company's experimental device is better and different. He said some tests show the device completely killing the biofilm or killing so much that antibiotics can kill the rest. Bacon explained the difference between infection in tissue and on metal implants.

Credit University at Buffalo
In the lab of Garwood Medical Devices, a researcher tests their Biofilm Disruption Device™ (BDD™) on a metal disk.

"The body can shed that. There's blood flow, there's a lot of things going on," Bacon said. "When the bacteria attach to a metal implant, there is no blood flow so they tend to attach to it, they multiply and then when they are threatened by your immune system or by antibiotics, they form a slime called a biofilm over themselves and therefore protect themselves from the immune system and from antibiotics."

Bacon said it's a use of chemistry, with the flow of electricity using the oxide on the metal to produce hydrogen. That changes the pH in the area, killing the bacteria - proof of the value of school chemistry.

"What we're causing is a water reduction action," he explained. "So we're separating hydrogen ions out of the water in your body. The hydrogen can combine with the oxide and form hydroxides, which drives the pH way positive, to the point the bacteria can't live."

Garwood has raised millions of dollars for development since federal approval would open the way for a treatment, and that avoids the massive amounts of money from implants that go bad and have to be removed and replaced.

"Every physician we talk to says, 'Well, you get it cleared for treatment,' but I'm going to use it every time prophylactically right after surgery, right after we close the patient, because it creates an aura around the implant that is bacteriacidle," he said.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.