> Plastic Nanoparticles Fight MRSA
Plastic Nanoparticles Fight MRSA
from the April 05, 2011 eNews issue
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When superbugs attack, get out the plastic nano-armies. Engineers in San Jose, California have created a new form of antibiotic out of manmade nanoparticles 50,000 smaller than the thickness of a human hair. According to researchers, these microscopic soldiers of germ warfare are able to search out and destroy even the scariest of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. When their job of slaughtering the bacterial enemy is finished, the nanoparticles harmlessly biodegrade away.
Misuse of standard antibiotics has led to the rise of drug-resistant "super" bacteria. If antibiotics don't quite kill off all the bacteria in their host, the most drug-resistant ones are left to reproduce after their kind, producing virulent strains that refuse to die through normal treatment. Typical drugs also kill the beneficial bacteria that bodies need to function well.
Bacteria like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infected at least 94,360 people in 2005, according to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. About 18,650 died during their hospital stays due to this serious staph infection that has been busily defying common antibiotics.
International Business Machines (IBM) is behind a technology to use nanoparticles to take over where antibiotic drugs have failed. These newly developed plastic nanoparticles use a different method of attack, as reported in this week's issue of Nature Chemistry. The engineers have given the nanoparticles a charge so that they are attracted to oppositely charged bacteria. In this way, they can be used to target infected cells, reportedly eradicating bacteria like MRSA while leaving beneficial bacteria alone.
According to the IBM researchers, these nanoparticles also take a different approach to killing the bacteria. Rather than attacking the bacterial DNA, these brutal plastic machetes beat down the cell walls, destroying the bacteria from the outside-in.
"These are designed to slice the cell membrane, to rip the membrane up and eliminate the contents," explains James Hedrick, advanced organic materials scientist at IBM Almaden Research Center. "It's kind of like the way a virus would work - a virus drills a pore, empties the contents and hijacks it. This is drilling in little holes, and all the contents leak out."
IBM's technology "goes outside the scheme of current antibiotics to something that physically destroys bacteria", said Mario Raviglione, chief of the World Health Organisation's Stop TB department. "If this is proven to work in humans, it will simply revolutionize the way we deal with antimicrobial treatment."
While the technology sounds promising, it has yet to be tested on humans. IBM declares that the nanoparticles harmlessly degrade into an "innocuous byproduct." It is encouraging that these microscopic machines can attack harmful bacteria without any threat that they themselves will reproduce or remain forever in the blood stream. Yet, a great deal of testing needs to be done to make sure that the nanoparticles only attack the cells of the organisms they are intended to attack.
Humankind continually presses upward in its technological advances, offering promises of wonder cures. An awareness of possible unforeseen results needs to keep us cautious in our biotech race.
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A Silver Bullet Against Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria - International Business Times
Nanotechnology Hope For Antibiotics - Telegraph.co.uk
IBM Semiconductor Nanotechnology 'Breakthrough' In MRSA Fight - Computer World UK
Computer Giant Turns To Germ Warfare - The Sydney Morning Herald
MRSA Statistics - Centers for Disease Control
Degradable Nanoparticles Search, Intercept and Destroy Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria - PopSci.com