To clear up the bacteria, patients often face further surgery to remove implants, as well as a regimen of antibiotics. But these drugs can fail as microbes mutate and develop resistance.
“It’s a huge problem,” said Thomas Webster, a chemical engineer at Northeastern University, in Boston, “which is why we like non-drug solutions — like selenium.”
Our bodies naturally contain trace amounts of selenium: it’s a component of several important enzymes. But although small quantities of this element are part of a healthy diet, in large amounts, it can be toxic. And on its own, it can kill both cancer cells and bacteria.
As Webster discovered, materials coated with tiny particles of selenium will resist bacterial colonization. In his most recent study, published in the journal Nanotechnology
, he pitted selenium-coated polymers against the culprit behind staph infections: the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.