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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

New research to tackle widespread healthcare infections

Published: 1 August 2013
Dr Sandra Wilks

Biological scientist Dr Sandra Wilks has been awarded a University of Southampton fellowship to support her work on a multidisciplinary project to reduce common healthcare infections related to medical devices.

The National Health Service spends hundreds of millions of pounds a year treating infections linked with the use of urinary catheters by elderly people and post-operative patients; it is estimated almost everyone who uses them for a month or more will develop an infection of some kind. Little research has been undertaken in this area up to now.

Sandra, who is the Assistant Director of Southampton's Environmental Healthcare Unit, is working with her colleague Professor Bill Keevil and Professor Mandy Fader in Health Sciences on ways to prevent and minimise the effect of biofilms on urinary catheters and naso-gastric feeding tubes. Biofilms are groups of bacteria that fix themselves firmly to moist surfaces and are difficult to remove. The Knowledge Mobilisation Fellowship in Healthcare Technologies from the University's Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS) will allow her to spend 40 percent of her time on the project.

"As urinary infections are so common and cause so much distress to patients, there is an urgent need to find out more about how biofilms form and how we can eliminate them," she says. "We will also be investigating new surface materials for catheters and innovative ways of preventing them from blocking. It is very satisfying to work in an area where, potentially, our research could make a real difference to patients."

Earlier, Sandra was part of two major European Union-funded international projects examining biofilms in drinking water. She has also worked with Professor Keevil on his pioneering research into the use of copper to minimise infections.

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