Drug-resistant bacteria present a couple types of problems--they don't die when attacked with typical antibiotics, and they form slimy, hard-to-remove colonies called biofilms, meaning they literally stick around after you've tried to wash them off. New treatments to prevent their spread have to take a different approach from other antimicrobial products. Researchers at IBM have a new idea, and they say it could work in hospitals, countertops and on your skin.
The new antimicrobial hydrogel, made of 90 percent water, gloops together spontaneously when warmed to body temperature. It can bust through biofilms and kill a whole host of bacterial types, from small bugs like E. coli to large bugs like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. The hydrogel is comprised of specially designed polymers, which are biodegradable and positively charged. When mixed with water and warmed up, the polymers self-assemble into chains, and the result is a thick gel.
The research team, led by Yi-Yan Yang at the Singapore-based Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, says the gel can be incorporated into creams, thin-film coatings for medical instruments, wound treatments, and plenty of other uses.
Their key breakthrough is the way the material hunts down and kills its quarry. Rather than interfering with DNA or selectively binding to a bacterial cell wall, like antibiotics do, the polymers grab on to the cell wall and rip it open, letting the contents leak out. This is possible because of their positive charge--matching the negatively charged cell wall of a microbe--and their hydrophobicity, or avoidance of water. Bacteria stand no chance, and they can't evolve resistance to this method of attack the way they could evolve resistance to the proteins found in drugs. It's a physical attack.
Right now, the researchers don't even know how the biofilm disruption works--they just know it does, said James Hedrick, an advanced organic materials scientist at IBM Research. "It is clearly interacting in a favorable way that allows this stuff to be eradicated," he said. "It can remove this extracellular matrix of proteins, rip them up, and eradicate the microbes below. We found this to be very exciting."
The team first came up with this concoction a couple years ago, but back then the treatment involved biodegradable nanoparticles that could only target large bacteria, like MRSA. By refining their methods and crafting a hydrogel instead, the team was able to broaden the range of microbes it can tackle.
IBM is in talks with several possible companies to sell the hydrogel as a new antimicrobial product, Hedrick said. Meanwhile, he and the other researchers are setting their sights on another target. "Now that we understand the mode of action, we are starting to move in and think about viruses," he said. "That is high on our priority list--we're looking at tuberculosis, dengue fever, things that there aren't a lot of solutions for. Those are areas we are looking to move towards."
A paper describing the new hydrogel appears in the new issue of Angewandte Chemie.
"Researchers at IBM have a new idea, and they say it could work in hospitals, countertops and on your skin."
IBM creating a medical deterrent to "Tough Bacterial Biofilms And Kill Superbugs"! Who knew this would come from IBM.
KUDOS IBM! Well done!
When robots and humans become one and positronic brains are part electronic and organic, I suppose this will be very helpful too!
From the article, it seems rather none toxic.
I wonder how this works if swallowed against yeast and bacterial infections of the digestive track. Does it also kill the good\friendly bacteria?
It is believed many cancers are caused from yeast.
I look forward to see this be further developed and tested. Perhaps it could be used against AIDS or parasites like malaria?
I have to say, IBM is an awesome company. They've held the patent registration record for the last 20 years and you never hear IBM being a troll and going after other companies like other tech/bio companies. They are the science company that make the world a better place. IBM is the model company to follow.
In space, no one can hear a tree fall in the forest.
"Nanotechnology researchers develop antimicrobial hydrogel that destroys superbugs"
I was right about Hydrogel being the innovation of the decade, but still made a blundering understatement instead. At first glance anti-microbial Hydrogel could be the finding of not just a life time, but lifetimes to come. Perhaps this is even bigger then penicillin.
This could reduce the need and use for all antibiotics; extending the life of current penicillin’s was a pending cliff. We may not be saved, but the disaster is now farther out. I think this in the form of an anti-bacterial hand lotion could gain rapid approval by health safety organizations. So, my question is if it is expensive were would be the best Hospital, surgical, or veterinary place to start using it?
Don’t forget the potential for artificial skin, and possible scar reduction by maintaining moist healing.
"The research team, led by Yi-Yan Yang at the Singapore-based Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnolog"
So if this research is led from a Singapore institute whats the relationship with IBM. Why would they even work with IBM. Is it a 50/50 shared cooperation effort? Or research by Singapore and financially supported by IBM? The article doesn`t explain it.
I got the impression that this was more of a surface cleaner, not something that could be taken in a pill form. Also as they said it was a physical, non selective attack on the cell wall of a bacteria I assume it will kill 'good' and 'bad' bacteria all the same,
"Rather than interfering with DNA or selectively binding to a bacterial cell wall, like antibiotics do, the polymers grab on to the cell wall and rip it open, letting the contents leak out"
excluding it from use as an oral or inject able medication
Great job IBM, but you got it wrong popsci, the bacteria will eventually evolve resistance. (it may be a hundred thousand years, but they will eventually overcome)
Someone needs to stop these evil corporations from slaughtering innocent bacteria. Coexist.
This sounds like a very caustic substance. How is it possible to make a substance that acts by ripping open the cell wall and "letting the contents leak out" safe for skin creams?
I wonder if this be good external ointment or injury\cuts\infection and yeast infections?
@ Greenmatrix; IBM has research facilities all over the world and research partners in a huge array of tech fields. Why Singapore? Some research involves excessive restrictions in America. If this had been done here, it wouldn't likely be done yet. Then, consider the fact of the computer OS that lazy Americans hate, Linux. It was created to run living simulations of bioprocesses. People in Singapore grew up using Linux. They have core skills.