'People die because of this': Finding a new weapon to battle bacterial superbugs
Shane Hartje's life changed forever on June 5, 2016. That's when he injured his spinal cord in a dirt bike accident and became a paraplegic.
"The physical ailment of the broken back wasn't that big a challenge," said Hartje. "Once you figure out your access things, you're ok."
Hartje was dealing with more than just his injury. In the hospital he got an infection that was hard to eliminate, an antibiotic-resistant bacterial superbug.
"There was only two types of antibiotics that were going to work on the bug, and that was it," said Hartje. "And they were both I.V. based."
Hartje is far from alone. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are becoming more prevalent, all around the world.
"Nowadays many, many pathogens are resistant," said Frank Schweizer, a professor from the University of Manitoba. "They're resistant to all known antibiotics we have. And that is of course a major problem. People die because of this."
That's why University of Manitoba researcher Dr. Song Liu is working on a different type of solution.
"I want to develop a series of material solutions to the problem of bacterial infections," he said.
Liu wants to use toxic and poisonous substances called biocides to kill bacteria infecting surface wounds.
There's just one small problem.
"They are non-selective," said Liu. "They can also bring harm to our human skin cells."
So in order to work effectively, the biocide will need to be yanked out of the wound quickly. And he may have a way to do just that.
Liu is working with graduate student Rachel Nickel to coat the biocide on magnetic nano particles. Nickel says the magnetic nanoparticles can be used to disrupt, or heat up and kill the bacteria.
Something she believes could be used to eliminate the pathogens clinging to medical devices.
"If we can cut down on say 10 per cent or 20 per cent of the hospital acquired illnesses," said Nickel, “Then we would be making a pretty big difference."
It could have made a difference for Shane Hartje. He spent several months battling the superbug before he was finally able to rid himself of it.