Electrical stimulation works for the treatment of bacterial infections, paving the way for a viable alternative to medicinal antibiotics, according to new research.
In the study, researchers from Washington State University in Pullman passed an electric current over a film of bacteria and in 24 hours killed almost all of a multidrug resistant bacterium often present in difficult-to-treat infections. The remaining bacterial population was 1/10,000th of its original size, results showed.
The researchers also tested the method on pig tissue, where it killed most of the bacteria and did not damage surrounding tissue. The findings were published Oct. 14 in Nature Scientific Reports, an open-access online journal from the publishers of Nature.
History of use
Researchers have tried treating infected wounds with electrical stimulation for more than a century but with mixed results. For obvious reasons, antibiotics have been the preferred and most effective treatment for infections, but their widespread use has led to drug-resistant strains. In the U.S. at least 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths are attributable to antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, according to the CDC.
Electrical stimulation has had mixed results against bacteria, but this is probably in part because people didn’t have a clear understanding of how it works electrochemically, co-author Haluk Beyenal, PhD, said in the release. Beyenal is a professor in WSU’s Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering.
During their research, the WSU team demonstrated the electrochemical reaction produces hydrogen peroxide, an effective disinfectant, at the electrode surface.
Transferring research to technology
“We have been doing fundamental research on this for many years, and finally, we are able to transfer it to technology,” Beyenal said in the release. “It’s really exciting.”
The researchers optimized the reaction and developed an “e-scaffold,” a sort of electronic Band-Aid made out of conductive carbon fabric. By running electrical current through the fabric, they produced a low and constant concentration of hydrogen peroxide to disinfect. The bacteria are unable to develop resistance to such an electrochemical treatment, the researcher said.
“Many people tried this simple method,” Beyenal said in the release. “Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. We controlled the electrochemical reactions. That’s the reason it works.”
The researchers have applied for a patent and now are working to increase the e-scaffold’s effectiveness and test it with a variety of bacterial species.
The work was led by Sujala T. Sultana, a graduate student in the Voiland School, and included other researchers from the Voiland School, the WSU Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology, the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory and WSU’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health.
Read the full study.