Discovered by applying principles used in semiconductor manufacturing, these nanostructures are physically attracted to infected cells like a magnet, allowing them to selectively eradicate difficult to treat bacteria without destroying healthy cells around them. These agents also prevent the bacteria from developing drug resistance by actually breaking through the bacterial cell wall and membrane, a fundamentally different mode of attack compared to traditional antibiotics.
MRSA is just one type of dangerous bacteria that is commonly found on the skin and easily contracted in places like gyms, schools and hospitals where people are in close contact. In 2005, MRSA was responsible for nearly 95,000 serious infections, and associated with almost 19,000 hospital stay-related deaths in the United States.
The challenge with infections like MRSA is two fold. First, drug resistance occurs because microorganisms are able to evolve to effectively resist antibiotics because current treatments leave their cell wall and membrane largely undamaged. Additionally, the high doses of antibiotics needed to kill such an infection indiscriminately destroy healthy red blood cells in addition to contaminated ones.
“The number of bacteria in the palm of a hand outnumbers the entire human population,” said Dr. James Hedrick, Advanced Organic Materials Scientist, IBM Research – Almaden. “With this discovery we’ve been able to leverage decades of materials development traditionally used for semiconductor technologies to create an entirely new drug delivery mechanism that could make them more specific and effective.”
If commercially manufactured, these biodegradable nanostructures could be injected directly into the body or applied topically to the skin, treating skin infections through consumer products like deodorant, soap, hand sanitizer, table wipes and preservatives, as well as be used to help heal wounds, tuberculosis and lung infections.
“Using our novel nanostructures, we can offer a viable therapeutic solution for the treatment of MRSA and other infectious diseases. This exciting discovery effectively integrates our capabilities in biomedical sciences and materials research to address key issues in conventional drug delivery,” said Dr. Yiyan Yang, Group Leader, Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Singapore.