Body implants initiates a new niche for microbiomes to arise

A new study revealed that body implant provides a new habitat for microbes. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen examined many implants such as screws implanted in the body in connection with surgery and discovered bacteria and fungi on them. But the patients have shown no signs of infection.

There are a lot of Danes who get a hip or knee replacement or have broken bones fixed with screws every year. Previous assumption has been that implants inserted into the body are sterile. But now researchers from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences have discovered bacteria and fungi on implants that have been inserted in patients. This new study has just been published in the scientific journal APMIS.

They examined 106 implants and the surrounding tissue from different patient groups. Patient samples (implants and tissue) were collected from five different hospitals in the Capital region of Denmark. By in-depth microbiological detection methods, they examined the prevalence of bacteria and fungi on 106 clinically uninfected implants from four patient groups. More than 70 percent were colonized by bacteria, fungi or both (corresponding to 78 implants). None of the patients in whom the implants had been implanted showed signs of infection, though.

This opens up a new field and understanding of the interplay between the body and bacteria and microbiomes. We have always believed implants to be completely sterile. It is easy to imagine, though, that when you insert a foreign body into the body, you create a new niche, a new habitat for bacteria. Now the question is whether this is beneficial, like the rest of our microbiome, whether they are precursors to infection or whether it is insignificant.

No Pathogens are found

It is important to stress that we have found no direct pathogens, which normally cause infection. Of course, if they had been present, we would also have found an infection, says Assistant Professor and co-author of the study Tim Holm Jakobsen.

The study shows a prevalence of bacteria in places where we do not expect to find any. And they manage to remain there for a very long time probably without affecting the patient negatively. In general, you can say that when something is implanted in the body it simply increases the likelihood of bacteria development and the creation of a new environment.

Negative Controls

The researchers also conducted 39 controls to examine and ensure that the implants had not simply been contaminated in the process of collecting samples or the subsequent analysis. This was done by opening a sterile implant, for example a screw, in the laboratory, during surgery or implanted in a patient and removing it again shortly after.

All controls were negative, which means that none of them led to the discovery of bacteria or fungi. This must mean that the colonization of bacteria and fungi begins after the implant is inserted in the body. On average, the examined implants had been in the body of the patient for 13 months.

The next step for this research is to examine the effect of the identified bacteria and fungi on the body and the implant and precisely how they emerge.

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