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LSU Engineer Develops Mechanism to Aid Identification and Treatment of Infection

Theranostic particle will increase efficiency and lessen probability of bacterial resistance


Daniel Hayes, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering at LSU, and his students have developed a theranostic particle -- part therapy, part diagnostic -- to allow surgeons to reduce the risk of resistance while still curing infections. Jim Zietz/University Relations

Antibiotic resistance is considered one of the most pressing healthcare issues facing the world.  According to the World Health Organization, or WHO, more than 25,000 people die annually from resistant bacterial infections in Europe alone; numbers are estimated at much higher rates here in the states. Most of these life-threatening infections are picked up in hospitals and other healthcare situations. Surgery in particular exposes a patient to great risk of picking up a potentially lethal bug.

“Part of the problem is that, when you’re dealing with a really invasive surgery, like say a hip or knee replacement, infections are bound to occur and are really difficult to treat,” said Daniel Hayes, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering at LSU. “Doctors are usually forced to treat it with a broad spectrum, untargeted antibiotic that actually increases the risk of resistance developing – plus, it just doesn’t work well.”

Hayes explained that less antibiotics used in a given situation results in less likelihood of resistance.

“Resistance happens really quickly. In fact, it’s actually transmittable between different bacteria,” he said. “Once one strain develops it, the condition is easily passed along to others.”

According to the CDC, more than 1 million knee and hip replacements were conducted in the U.S. in 2009. Currently, if an infection develops in one of these operations, revision surgery is necessary, which is costly and often unsuccessful. In fact, in 15-20 percent of these cases, the antibiotic doesn’t affect the infection and amputation is eventually necessary.


The theranostic particle can be injected into the body and coded to identify the precise location of an infection, avoiding wasteful use of antibiotics and ensuring rapid recovery with less chance of resistance.

“We can do better,” Hayes said. “If we can identify exactly where the infection is, we can resolve it efficiently and effectively.”

Hayes and his research team has developed a novel and so far effective way to allow surgeons to reduce the risk of resistance while still curing the infection. They created a “theranostic” particle – an element both therapeutic and diagnostic – which can be injected into the body and coded to identify the precise location of an infection, avoiding wasteful use of antibiotics and ensuring rapid recovery with less chance of resistance.

The goal of this work is three-fold: to reduce the amount of drugs given, reduce the amount of resistance developed and to diagnose the exact location of an infection, taking out the guesswork and bringing laser-like precision to the process.

“Our targeting compound is easy to switch out, so the actual particle could be used to seek out any type of infection,” he said. “We have currently demonstrated the ability of the particle to target infection, now we’re looking for a corporate partner to take this to the human testing stage.”

Both Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the LSU Health Sciences Center are involved in Hayes’ work, with much of the diagnostic aspect being conducted at Pennington, while the orthopedic parts are done at the Health Sciences Center.

“Orthopedic surgeons brought this problem to our attention,” said Hayes. “This is a fantastic example of engineering solutions to some of life’s biggest challenges.”

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