New research from the University of Southampton could lead to advanced treatments to prevent blockages and urinary tract infections experienced by many long-term catheter users. Using an imaging technique called episcopic differential interference contrast (EDIC) microscopy, researchers from the University of Southampton identified four clear stages to the development of a crystalline biofilm that causes encrustations and subsequent blockage.

The Southampton team used EDIC microscopy to study the development of the crystalline biofilm over a 24-day period on two common catheter materials: silicone and hydrogel latex.

The researchers found an initial foundation layer formed by individual "colonizing" P. mirabilis cells, which occurred in less than one hour. This event was rapidly followed by a sheet-like microcrystalline material that covered the conditioning film from which, after 24-hour exposure, large amounts of crystalline material extended out. Within four days, the entire surface (of both catheter materials) was covered with a crystalline biofilm, in which P. mirabilis was embedded throughout the structure.

The results showed that the biofilm occured equally on silicone and hydrogel latex, and that the two materials had no effect on the time progression of development.

The findings, according to the researchers, could help to prevent the overuse of antibiotics.