Modern medicine has made it easy for doctors to replace almost any body part – from a tooth to limb – with implants that enable people to carry on with their lives. But implants carry a risk of infection, and if a dental implant or a screw or plate used in back surgery gets infected, patients can experience major pain, plus expense and hassle as doctors undo what they did and start all over again.
To prevent that from happening, an Israeli biotech start-up called NanoLock has developed technology that kills bacteria inside an implant before they can invade the body and cause infections.
“Our system allows for the manufacture of polymer plastics that have anti-microbial properties,” said Dr. Ervin Weiss, CEO of the company. “We can nearly eliminate bacteria that get into an implant, so that if any do get through, the body’s immune system can easily defeat it.”
Weiss, currently dean of the Tel Aviv University School of Dentistry, worked as head of prosthodontics in Hadassah Dental School for 14 years. “I developed this technology at Hadassah, and now we are licensing it from Hadasit, the tech transfer company of Hadassah.”
Dental implants, contact lenses, stents, breast implants, and many other man-made devices to restore or enhance health are all subject to infection. Although relatively rare, implants bacteria are responsible for “catastrophic failure” – meaning that the entire implant has to be removed and replaced – 3% to 5% of the time. In many other instances, infections occur but are treatable with antibiotics or other medical methods. Although not “catastrophic,” many patients who have suffered through such infections will attest that the pain and discomfort they felt made them wish they could remove their implant.
But with NanoLock, those days are over, said Weiss. “There are implants that contain material to mitigate infections, but these are subject to leaching, with the chemicals or antibiotics eventually getting into the body as the polymer material weakens. That’s not a healthy situation, but because we don’t use chemicals, antibiotics, or other additives there is nothing to leach.”
The NanoLock technology enables the production of implants that contain specially designed components (consisting of a total of 1% of the entire implant) that mechanically kill bacteria, said Weiss. “As bacteria moves through the implant it comes across our material, which basically punches a hole in the middle of a bacterium, rendering it impotent. The nano-sized additive particles are spread throughout the implant, so the chances of a bacterium getting through their ‘trap’ is very low.”
In addition, the system ensures that the now-dead bacteria – and the additive material itself – does not leach out of the implant. “We have patents on both the method to destroy bacteria, and the anti-leaching properties of the system,” said Weiss. “It’s a powerful combination that can be used in a wide variety of fields, including plastic surgery, medical devices, and even food packaging. In all those areas there is a risk of infection or leaching of anti-microbial agents, or the microbes themselves. With out system that risk is greatly reduced, if not eliminated altogether.”
NanoLock’s first product will be for the dental industry – “we have a proof of concept contract with one of the world’s biggest dental surgery companies” – and although only two months old, the company has already garnered a great deal of interest from investors, said Weiss.
One of the greatest risks of bacterial infection is the growing resistance of germs; the more bacteria get into the body, the more antibiotics need to be used to battle them, and the more germs build up resistance to those drugs. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is considered to be an urgent challenge. According to Dr. K. Fukuda, World Health Organization Assistant Director-General for Health Security, “unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections, the implications will be devastating.” NIH (National Institutes of Health) estimates that “infectious diseases are the second cause of death worldwide, more than13 million deaths per year (mostly due to bacteria).”
In his research, Weiss has found that the system eliminates “at least 99.99999% of bacteria, and possibly more. Our nano-polymer additive has a broad spectrum of antibacterial effect,” said Weiss. I believe that the nano-polymer additive, which is free of toxins and heavy metals, will revolutionize the medical device industry.”
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