Researchers investigate fluid that causes joint infections


October 6, 2014

Topic: orthopaedic problems, orthopaedic pain

Researchers from Thomas Jefferson University collaborated with scientists at the National Institutes of Health to study the causes behind joint infections, a common orthopaedic problem.

Researchers from Thomas Jefferson University collaborated with scientists at the National Institutes of Health to study the causes behind joint infections, a common orthopaedic problem. The findings were published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The researchers hoped to determine why patients experienced orthopaedic pain because of a joint infection. The infections are also highly resistant to antibiotic treatment.

"Biofilm formation has been suspected to play a key role during septic arthritis and prosthetic joint infection." Noreen Hickok, Ph.D., said in a statement. "This study could help explain why these infections have been so difficult to treat and point to therapeutic approaches that could make antibiotics more effective."

Investigating MRSA
The researchers hoped to figure out why the infection known as Staphylococcus aureus, which is methicillin-resistant, cannot be treated with antibiotics. There has been plenty of research on bacteria growth before. However, these study authors wanted to examine if the bacteria acted different while sitting in the liquid that surrounds joints, known as synovial fluid. The researchers grew various types of bacteria in blood, synovial fluid and a normal medium for bacteria.

The study authors noticed the bacteria grew in clumps in the synovial fluid. These clumps have similar characteristics as biofilms. One of the ways that the bacteria resists antibiotics is covering themselves in a wall of protein. The bacteria also slow their growth to resist antibiotics, which normally attack rapidly growing cells.

Biofilms are cells that stick together onto one substance, the National Institutes of Health stated. For example, plaque on teeth is a biofilm.

Discovering a solution
The collaborators realized that they could stop the bacterial clumps from forming by pre-treating the fluid with a plasmin enzyme that broke down the protein wall. As a result, there were fewer clumps and the remaining bacteria were more vulnerable to antibiotics.

"The study also helps explain why joint infections are so difficult to diagnose, even when there are overt signs of infection," Hickok noted. Currently, there are no tests that can tell the difference between a single bacterium from a bacteria clump, which can cause people to underestimate the power of the infection or not see it at all.

Looking forward
The researchers concluded that their work asks one of the most crucial questions in medicine, which is how to discover a way to fight an infection with antibiotics. The study authors believe their findings will help contribute to future scientists' understanding of the phenomenon and the actions of bacteria.  


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