Hello Health Rounds readers! Today we feature a study showing that experimental surgical implants created by a 3D printer using a combination of metals can ward off bacterial infections associated with current titanium implants. We also look at a Spanish study that suggests artery-clogging atherosclerosis can be reversed for some, particularly younger patients, with early intervention. And we highlight a study out of Canada that found a link between high levels of “bad” cholesterol and inflammation that can trigger type 2 diabetes.
Health Rounds will not be published on Thursday due to the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. We’ll be back next Tuesday!
3D-printed surgical implants use infection-preventing metals
Experimental surgical implants made of 3D-printed metals can resist nearly 90% of the bacteria responsible for infections that may require medical intervention or removal of the devices, researchers say.
The new metal is a combination of the titanium alloy presently used to make implants, plus copper and tantalum.
When bacteria come into contact with the material’s copper surface, almost all of their cell walls rupture. Meanwhile, the tantalum encourages healthy cell growth with surrounding bone and tissue leading to improved bone connections and faster healing, the researchers said.
Currently used titanium implants have “no defensive power” against bacteria, study leader Amit Bandyopadhyay of Washington State University said in a statement.
Despite preventive medication, life-threatening infections can occur soon after surgery or months later, often requiring intravenous antibiotics. In about 7% of titanium implant surgery cases, surgeons need to remove and replace the devices.
“We need to find something where the device material itself offers some inherent resistance, more than just providing drug-based infection control. Here we’re saying, why not change the material itself and have inherent antibacterial response from the material itself?” Bandyopadhyay said.
The researchers are hoping to improve the bacterial death rate to more than 99%. They also want to make sure that their material performs well under real-world conditions that patients might encounter, such as hiking in the case of a knee replacement.
Doctors and patients need to realize that progression of subclinical atherosclerosis – arterial plaque that has not yet caused a major cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke – can be stopped if risk factors are managed aggressively from an early age, the researchers said.
The study tracked more than 4,000 middle-aged bank employees in Madrid without a history of heart disease who volunteered to undergo noninvasive 3-dimensional ultrasound imaging studies of their major arteries every three years.
Six years after the study began, approximately one in three participants who had been free of subclinical atherosclerosis had developed it, most often, in the femoral artery in the thigh.
Overall during those six years, among the 3,471 volunteers who either started out with subclinical atherosclerosis or developed it along the way, the condition progressed in 32.7%.
Poor control of cholesterol levels and blood pressure were linked with greater progression of atherosclerosis. Those links were strongest in younger study participants, the researchers found.
But among the 1,529 participants with subclinical atherosclerosis at the start, 123, or 8% – all with low amounts of plaque – saw the condition regress. Among the predictors of regression were younger age and lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, the researchers reported.
“Our results call for an urgent shift in the current approach to the disease,” the researchers wrote.
“Given the greater likelihood of achieving atherosclerotic plaque regression at younger ages… efforts in the prevention of cardiovascular disease must begin earlier in life.”
High cholesterol triggers diabetes-inducing inflammation
Canadian researchers have found clues to how poorly controlled cholesterol levels contribute to the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
In a study of 40 volunteers, researchers found that those with high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol had greater inflammatory responses in their adipose, or fat, tissue than subjects with low LDL levels.
In fact, the LDL molecules acted as “priming signals” for the inflammation in the fat tissue, which in turn was linked with abnormalities in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism that are known to promote development of type 2 diabetes if left untreated, the researchers explained in Scientific Reports.
In test tube experiments, the team was able to reproduce the action of LDL on inflammatory responses in samples of participants’ adipose tissue and immune cells, particularly when the it came from volunteers with high LDL levels.
High levels of LDL cholesterol have long been associated with cardiovascular disease risk.
The results of the new study suggest that treating people with high LDL levels to reduce inflammation might reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease, achieving “two important goals in one approach,” the researchers said in a statement.