New invention could fight O.R. infections

Infection of a surgical site is not only physically painful, but also financially hurtful. It's the most common problem in hospitals, but a local doctor has come up with an idea to help protect patients.

Dr. Terry Clyburn is an Orthopedic Surgeon at Houston Methodist Hospital and believes he has come up with a way to help patients one day fight infection!  He is working with two other doctors in Houston to develop tiny antibiotics that dissolve under the skin, using something that is already FDA approved called PLGA or Poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid). 

"PLGA is used in a lot of applications in medicine.  It's what many suture materials are made of, screws to fix ligaments are made of PLGA.  The body recognizes it doesn't belong there, which is why stitches go away on their own, reabsorbable screws reabsorb on their own," explains Dr. Clyburn.

He envisions them being in a steel straw, that a surgeon would sprinkle on an open wound while in the operating room. 

"We pour it on there and it goes into spaces within the metal and then you put it into the bone.  The little microspheres, gradually over six weeks, release antibiotics that stay in the area of the metal, and as bone heals, it grows into the metal, thus infection is prevented in that area," describes Dr. Clyburn. 

He believes this could help all patients, especially anyone undergoing a joint replacement.

"We're putting in artificial parts -- plastic and metal.  The metal, plastic, and other things have no blood supply, so if you're taking an antibiotic, it might not get to where the material is. So if we put this into you and somehow under your skin or from the air, a single bacteria gets on that device, then we close the incision up, you get up, you're happy, then a week or two later, you've got a fever, swelling, and that bacteria has begun to grow and multiply," says Dr. Clyburn.  

Jason Lyles says he hopes that Dr. Clyburn's invention will get the FDA's stamp of approval.  He feels like something like that would've saved him a lot of pain.

"I think it might've helped - with all the tech now-a-days, I'm sure they've come up with something.  It was a rough time - going through all the infection," says Jason.

He's referring to his motorcycle crash.  He was able to survive a skull fracture, but it was a leg infection that turned out to be so tough to survive.  "Just about as the wound was starting to heal up, just one night all of a sudden, it was on fire, and I called my Ortho," exclaims Jason.

He raced back to the hospital.  "I had MRSA and MSSA. It was a long battle!  They said nine out of ten times, you get it right out of the operating room.  It got to the point they they talked about amputation!  I was dead set against it, but after 28 surgeries, I was getting tired of it," says Jason.

Doctors were able to spare his leg, but the scars are extreme.  "It wasn't because of the injury. It's because of the infection.  So much of the skin was bad.  They couldn't save it, so they ended up taking a big patch off of my hip two different times and putting it there," explains Jason.

Jason had an understanding boss who supported him throughout his illness, but an infection like his can be financially devastating. 

"The direct medical cost is  $100,000 to treat one infection!  Indirect costs - work and suffering - costs about $400,000," exclaims Dr. Clyburn. He says a simple sprinkling of microspheres would prevent that high cost of pain and finances. 

Dr. Clyburn says his his initial tests show the antibiotic microspheres to be 100 percent effective.  He's anxious for further studies and hopes that it will become standard treatment in the next five years.  He has teamed up with an international company to try to speed up the process.