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“We chose a couple of organisms that were

associated with deep bone infections, and we

were able to demonstrate that the drug

exposed on the surface of a medical device

inhibited micro-organisms and retained its

functionality, despite being treated in our

‘nano-onion skin’ mechanism.

“The experiments were undertaken

in vitro


the laboratory with captured micro-organisms.

It’s a point of debate about whether you should

deliberately infect an animal in order to realise

a medical breakthrough. In this particular case,

it was not necessary.

“This was very much a demonstration product

to show that the technology worked. What

scientists have to be careful of is making bold

extrapolations from one piece of data. We very

much did this as a proof of concept to show if

it works with this particular drug. It would in

theory work with other drugs, and indeed not

only antimicrobials, but even antigenic

substances for increasing blood capillary

growth, or anabolic substances for increasing

tissue regeneration. Once you have

demonstrated this technology will work, then

in theory it could be applied to a wide range

of other functional, biological molecules.”

Benefit the patient

The length of time it will take to bring such

benefits to patients is “a global problem” and

“a global challenge” says Hatton, one which he

says Europe is very much focused on.

Commercialisation seems to be the next step

for the project, as the academic said he was in

talks with businesses.

“Over the next few months, we would hopefully

resolve which of the technologies from our

project would be the most appropriate to be

adopted by industry, and then we would work

with industrial partners to translate the science

from our lab to their products. It would not be

unreasonable to see this kind of technology

reaching the market in 12-36 months.

“The problems now are not the science, but

rather the upscaling and the regulatory

compliance – you move to a different area of

speciality and it’s important to get the claims

“It would be relatively easy to take materials and a packet of antibiotics

and let it leak out. Yet such a drug delivery device fails to comply with

the complex regulatory environment.

“One of our interests, both in this project and with some national funding,

is to see if we can functionalise the surface of a material, so that the

device retains functionality and the regulator will view it as a device. We

wanted something where the antimicrobial action was bound to the

surface, and that is what we have been experimenting with in this project.

“Our ambition was to demonstrate that a drug could be placed on the

surface of a device in such a way that it would not be unreasonable for

somebody to define this as a device, thus with all of the benefits and

cost effectiveness of regulatory compliance. This is still a debate to be

had, and although I’m not guaranteeing that the regulators will fully agree

with this approach, it’s a very timely debate.”

The experiment

Hatton then detailed the scientific background to the project and the

investigations undertaken.

“The actual concept is not a new idea – it is called layer by layer

fabrication and what you are essentially doing is introducing alternating

hydrophilic and hydrophobic layers like an onion skin, but on the

nanoscale. Between each layer of the ‘onion skin’, we placed an

antibiotic. You can place any biofunctional molecule there, but we

thought an antibiotic would be good because it kills micro-organisms.

Whilst it would be possible to use many other complex molecules, it

would be harder to prove it was there and working, whereas an antibiotic

is known for its functionality and we knew if the technology worked, we

would be able to demonstrate its effectiveness.

“We used the antibiotic metronidazole, placing it between 20 nanoscale

layers in total. We then judged whether the antibiotic was there, which

it was, and how when it was exposed to the environment, it was lethal

to micro-organisms.


H O R I Z O N 2 0 2 0 P R O J E C T S : P O R TA L


S O C I E TA L C H A L L E N G E S : H E A L T H & W E L L B E I N G

Hatton commented

that infection was

becoming an

increasingly important

concern for clinicians