LONDON, ONT. -- They’re called ureteral stents, a hollow device placed between the kidney and bladder, commonly used in patients with kidney stones.

“Kidney stones affect approx 10 per cent of the population and a majority of treatments for kidney stones will require the placement of a ureteral stent for a short period of time post operatively,” says Dr. Jennifer Bjazevic, assistant professor in urology at Western University.

In fact, approximately 30,000 stents are placed in patients across the country annually. The problem is sometimes the stents get encrusted with minerals and bacteria.

“We do see a lot of complications related to the...stent insertions and one of the most common ones associated with one is infection,” says Bjazevic.

With this being a common issue, a team of scientists out of the Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University have been examining how specific bacteria called microbiomes could hold the answer on how to better treat these patients.

“We were looking at patients' urine samples and also these stents when they were removed to characterize the bacteria on the surface and see, first of all, if the urine is a biomarker that we can predict the bacteria on the stents by looking at the urine, and also to try to track the people who get the infections,” says Dr Kait Al, postdoctoral fellow at Lawson.

The team concluded bacteria could be found on all stents, challenging the belief that the urinary tract is a sterile environment. Types of bacteria also differed depending on the patient’s medical condition.

In order to conduct the study, 241 patients from St. Joseph’s Health Care participated. The study included examining their stents as well as looking at their antibiotic use.

“What we can do is potentially target their future antibiotics use for when they need another stent and target based on the bacteria we find and the profiles unique to them,” says Al.

The ultimate goal is a personalized medicine approach for these patients with the hopes of decreasing infections as well as decreasing side effects from antibiotics associated with stents.