Smart bandages not only capture pathogens, but also destroy them in no time. All they need is ordinary light.
Hospital-acquired infections are a problem that current technologies are not able to deal with effectively. In the European Union alone they cause around 100,000 deaths each year, with estimates of the costs associated with treatment in the EU around €7 billion per year. However, this could change in the future; the Czech spin-off LAM-X a.s. is working intensively on the development of a nanomaterial that not only passively prevents viruses or bacteria from entering open wounds, but can also actively destroy them. It is made up of nanofibres doped with a photoactive substance which, when activated by ordinary light, eliminates any microbes that are in close proximity to it.
Current dressing materials provide a kind of mechanical barrier aimed at suppressing the transmission of infection into the patient's body. However, if the objective is also to destroy the pathogens that cause infections, cover materials containing active silver are available. However, this is potentially toxic to the patient if used for a long time, and over time bacterial strains that may be resistant to this metal emerge.
The material from LAM-X a. s. works on a completely different principle. “Our technology works with nanofibres that are hundreds of nanometres in diameter. We use them to create a very dense network that effectively prevents the penetration of pathogens. However, this in itself is not groundbreaking; nanofibre coverings have been produced for some time, although their use is not yet widespread. The added value of our material lies primarily in the fact that we can add a photoactive substance (so-called photosensitizer) to our nanofibres, which, when illuminated with ordinary light, activates a sterilization process that eliminates any bacteria or viruses on the surface of the bandage,” says Roman Chaloupka, CEO of LAM-X a. s.
The light-activated photosensitizer can convert virtually ubiquitous molecular oxygen into so-called singlet oxygen, a highly reactive molecule that oxidizes virtually anything that comes in its way. “By using the photooxidation process, we are able to destroy even those pathogens that have already built up resistance to antibiotics or silver. Another huge advantage of our technology is that it eliminates the problem of toxicity of active dressings, which allows their long-term use. The singlet oxygen is generated only on the surface of the nanofibers and, due to its high reactivity, it acts only in close proximity to the nanofibers, so it does not come into contact with the patient's own wound or skin at all. And last but not least, our material is cheaper, as there is no need to use precious metals such as silver in its production,” adds Chaloupka.
Bandages, incision films, catheter fixation
The development of a second-generation smart bandage with antimicrobial effect is currently moving towards a clinical trial. If its current potential is confirmed, it could help, for example, people with chronic wounds in a few years' time. “More than 50 percent of patients with chronic wounds have been on treatment for more than a year. One reason is that these wounds are repeatedly infected with other bacteria. Our material should prevent this,” says Roman Chaloupka. However, it could be used to treat virtually any wound.
A prototype of this type of bandage already exists and is currently being tested preclinically. These are a set of tests that need to be carried out before the product receives the necessary approvals to conduct clinical trials on real patients. Recruitment and follow-up should then take about a year. “By the end of 2024 and the beginning of 2025 at the latest, we should have the data to certify this dressing material as a medical device and subsequently award the CE mark, which is necessary for placing it on the EU market. At that point, production can begin,” adds Roman Chaloupka.
However, dressing materials are only one of the paths LAM-X a.s. wants to take in the use of its technology. “At the moment we are already working on the development of other products, because we are convinced that our technology has a much more versatile application. Our material could be used, for example, to drape an operating field, which would greatly reduce the incidence of bacteria that could get close to an open wound. Even better, they could replace incision films, which are glued directly to the patient's skin to enhance health protection, especially in more time-consuming operations. The increase in cleanliness during surgery using our material should clearly reduce the incidence of post-operative infectious complications,” says Roman Chaloupka, outlining further possibilities.
The technology of LAM-X a. s. would also find application in intravenous catheterisation, especially in long-term patients. “Even in this case, doctors struggle with the transfer of bacteria into the bloodstream, which causes serious health complications in the form of infections. If we made the adhesive dressings that fix the catheters to the wound from our material, we could largely prevent infections,” explains Roman Chaloupka.
Clinical trials, search for an industrial partner
LAM-X a.s. was founded in 2020 thanks to the joint efforts of Charles University and the Academy of Sciences. Specifically, its creation is backed by Charles University Innovations Prague, a subsidiary of Charles University, and the i&i Prague bio-innovation centre. It is currently preparing an investment round to raise funds for the aforementioned clinical trials. “All our products fall into the category of medical devices, the production of which is, of course, highly regulated. In order to obtain the necessary permits, whether in the Czech Republic, the European Union or in non-European countries, we need to collect a large amount of data to confirm the safety and efficacy of the material,” explains Roman Chaloupka of the need for clinical trials. The company would like to use part of the funds raised to equip its own laboratory (including a semi-operational nanofibre production facility) and to develop further products using this technology.
However, the plans of LAM-X a. s. do not end there. “After completing all the necessary testing of our wound covers, we would like to launch them on the market through an industrial partner in the form of a large multinational company. We are looking for someone who has been involved in the treatment and healing of wounds for a long time, which means they already have a distribution network and effective marketing. We could then continue to focus on what we do best, i.e. on the development of new products,” concludes Roman Chaloupka, CEO of LAM-X a. s.
The products that LAM-X a.s. develops are based on unique technology that can help improve the quality of life for millions of people. Thanks to their versatility, they can be used in many areas of healthcare. They are also cheaper to produce in many cases than the materials currently used. It is these attributes that give LAM-X the chance to develop its potential not only in the local market, but also to succeed globally.