Finding an alternative to antibiotics | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - March 2004

Finding an alternative to antibiotics

There is a risk of wound infection after any surgery, but with breast surgery — typically following the diagnosis of breast cancer — infection rates can be as high as 18 per cent. Breast surgery can be a devastating life event for any patient and wound healing complications only increase the trauma and suffering.

“We’ve been wanting to do this study for years but could never get the funding at the same time as the equipment we needed. So we’re particularly delighted to receive this timely £82,000 grant from Action Medical Research,” says Andy Melling, a research worker on a new project based at the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton on Tees.

Reducing infection rates

Andy Melling is keen to improve this situation: “^There is very little evidence to support the use of antibiotics during breast surgery^. There have been studies which show they reduce the infection rate slightly — but really they’re pretty ineffective. Whereas our previous study (also funded by Action Medical Research — Ed.) showed that we could reduce infection rates by 60 per cent by warming the patient prior to surgery. It sounds so simple — and that is probably why we will need to work twice as hard to convince the sceptics that warming people can be a realistic alternative to the use of antibiotics.”

To build on the success of their earlier study, the research team, led by Professor David Leaper, will compare the use of antibiotics with warming on the rate of wound infection after breast surgery in 300 women over two years. It is also important to investigate alternatives to antibiotics as bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to the drugs.

“If our new project adds to the scientific evidence, our aim is to have patient warming as standard practice for many types of surgery across the NHS,” Andy told Touching Lives. “It could have an enormous impact on patient health.”

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