New Heating Process May Cure Infections

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If you are alive, the chances are good that you have had some kind of infection at some point in your life. When this happens, doctors have several things they can do to treat you. They can give you antibiotics and they can operate. Newer ways of heating objects may soon replace surgery to treat some infections. So, if you were wondering, “what is induction heating for?,” one answer may be — “to treat infection.” Recently, Science for Students looked at how doctors are using some types of induction heating to cure infections that take place on metal inside the body.

There are a number of reasons people have metal implanted in their body. Many people have their hips, knees and shoulders replaced with metal joints. Others have screws or plates put in after an accident. The problem is that these metal pieces can become home to dangerous bacteria. To get rid of these pests, often, surgeons are called in to open the people back up and get rid of the bacteria.

The problems with this way of dealing with infections are many. In the first place, not everyone is healthy enough to go through even a small surgery. There are always risks when you are put to sleep for anything. Moreover, the bacteria that like to live on metal implants are tricky little devils. They are prone to creating what are called “biofilms.” The bacteria are basically able to build themselves a shield to protect themselves and make it hard to kill them. One kind of biofilm that most of us are aware of is the plaque on our teeth. This is in an area we can reach, unlike the implants and joints.

Doctors and researchers have been looking for more effective ways to kill this bacteria. Two were looking at the question, “what is induction heating for?” and they saw that maybe there was a way to use this technology to help people with these kinds of infections.

Rajiv Chopra and David Greenberg started looking at ways to treat an infected artificial joint or a plate without removing it and starting over. They knew that the reason people with metal implants cannot be put in for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) because the metal interacts with the magnetic field of the MRI machine and creates heat. They wondered if this heat could be manipulated to help people with infections of joints and plates.

Induction heating is the process by which heat is generated when magnetic fields are manipulated. Whenever and wherever you have electricity, you have a magnetic field. If you change the flow of that electricity, you change its magnetism. The only things that are impacted are those that can conduct electricity so when an MRI is done, human issue is not heated.

The duo of Chopra and Greenberg thought the heat generated this way might be able to kill troublesome bacteria without hurting the patient. First, they had to make sure it would kill the bacteria. Their experiments on biofilm showed this kind of heat would kill bacteria insulated with a biofilm. Adding this to the answer to “what is induction heating forr?”

Making sure the heat generated from a changing magnetic field could effectively kill biofilm protected bacteria was step one, next they worked to make sure it would not hurt human tissues. Initial testing on animals shows that this kind of heating is a lot safer than other kinds. The team plans to do some more testing on animal subjects before moving on to people. These initial tests are encouraging.

Chopra and Greenberg also see a use for this new process that combines traditional antibiotic treatment with the induction heating techniques. Antibiotics can work well but it is impossible to target one area. When you combine the induction heating with a powerful antibiotic, it is much easier to get at the bacteria. This is a win-win for everyone.

When people think about induction heating safety or ask “what is induction heating for” the answer “to cure infection and prevent surgery” may not yet be the answer that pops up but this new technique for curing infection has wide ranging possibilities. It may make getting artificial joints much, much safer.

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