Biology professor’s catheter technology awarded funding from Open Philanthropy

Author: Deanna Csomo Ferrell

A professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame has been awarded funding from Open Philanthropy for further development of a new type of urinary catheter that may reduce deaths from catheter-induced urinary tract infections (CAUTI).

Ana Lidia Flores Mireles

Ana Flores Mireles, Hawk Assistant Professor, developed the new technology after discovering that inflammation caused by catheters induces the bloodstream to release proteins into the bladder. She discovered that one specific protein, fibrinogen, creates a web of fiber-like structures on the catheter for the pathogens like bacteria to deposit upon. This increases the chance that patients will develop an infection.

Open Philanthropy, which awards funding for a variety of projects that have global importance but which may be overlooked by other major philanthropic organizations, is providing $895,000 over three years for further research into the new type of catheter.

“I am very honored to receive this award from Open Philanthropy,” said Flores Mireles, who is affiliated with the Eck Institute for Global Health, W.M. Keck Center for Transgene ResearchHarper Cancer Research Institute, and Berthiaume Institute for Precision Health. “This will help our research team with validating the effectiveness of our novel liquid-infused silicone (LIS) urinary catheter.”

CAUTI are the most common infections within hospitals and nursing homes, according to Flores Mireles. Her LIS catheters repel deposits of fibrinogen—a healing agent in most cases—that lead to infection. The funding will provide the opportunity to learn more about the new catheter’s effectiveness in preventing the proteins from depositing on the catheter and in the bladder, defending against bladder cancer, and inhibiting infections during acute and prolonged urinary catheterization.

In a paper she and collaborators published earlier in the year in eLife, Flores Mireles described the catheter, which is also more flexible than other catheters, and shared figures showing the effectiveness in mouse models. Catheters create scratches within the bladder, which trigger the fibrinogen to form and attempt to “heal” the small cuts. Flores Mireles discovered the new catheters led to fewer microbes, less swelling, and less fibrinogen in the bladder lumen—the hollow space that holds the urine.

She and co-principal investigator Caitlyn Howell, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Maine, received a five-year, $2 million grant in June 2021 from the National Institutes of Health to develop and study the efficacy of this liquid-infused silicone catheter.

Flores Mireles said she hopes to develop human trials for the catheter after FDA approval. 

“Validation of LIS catheters capabilities in acute and long-term catheterization will be a game changer in reducing infections in hospitals and nursing homes,” Flores Mireles said, adding that the technology can also be applied to other medical devices such as stents and dialysis catheters.

“These types of technologies are desperately needed to achieve better public health by decreasing healthcare-associated infections and promoting long-term wellness.”