The prevalence of needlestick injury and the biomedical potential for spider silk as a prevention strategy
Newbury, Alex Jon
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A needlestick injury is defined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as a percutaneous injury due to accidental handling of a sharp. The CDC estimates that approximately 400,000 needlestick incidences occur each year in United States healthcare facilities, and reports from other developed countries, such as the United Kingdom and Spain, share similar frequencies. Further, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates two million international healthcare workers are exposed annually to infectious disease as a consequence of a needlestick event, resulting in 37.6% and 39% of hepatitis B and hepatitis C cases, respectively. In the United States, federal and state legislation have greatly reduced incidence rates since the late 1980s, providing education, better protocols and effective post-exposure management. Additionally, the introduction of national surveillance databases led to stronger epidemiological support for the causation of needlestick injury and consequently, a stronger national awareness. In an effort to better protect healthcare workers, corporations such as DuPont and BD have further reduced needlestick incidences in the United States by designing products ranging from safety-engineered syringes to adhesive strips surrounded in strong synthetic materials such as Kevlar® and Lycra®. These devices are instrumental in minimizing the needlestick problem in both the clinic and in the operating room. As part of the current United States legislation, healthcare organizations are mandated to implement and utilize these safety-engineered syringes and needles. Despite the rise in protective equipment, national database surveillance and federal/state legislature, the incidence rate remains high as hundreds of thousands of injuries persist each year. We sought to find other solutions for better protecting healthcare workers through the implementation of golden orb weaver spider silk in personal protective equipment. This silk, gathered from the Nephila clavipes, is one of the strongest and toughest biomaterials in known existence. Its characteristically high energy absorption makes it an ideal material for reinforcing gloves and other protective equipment for healthcare workers. We believe that products made from this silk would serve as strong barriers against needlestick injury and bloodborne pathogen exposure. We are in the process of designing and fabricating such a glove and completed preliminary strength testing to ensure the superiority of our material. Tensile testing conducted at Tufts' Department of Biomedical Engineering suggests that our silk possesses the same mechanical profile as N. clavipes silk found in published literature. We plan on utilizing Fourier-transform infrared (DSC-FTIR) microspectroscopy to study the protein structure and possibly conducting enzyme degradation assays to assess the property changes under unique conditions. This information combined with our patented extraction and reinforcing methodology will provide the groundwork for partnering with industry leaders to make this product a reality and help eliminate the incidence of needlestick injury.