Blowing up superbugs: IBM reveals nanotech gel that can ‘explode’ cells
- Firm says breakthrough could replace antibiotics
- ‘hydrogel’ could be used for creams, coating for medical instruments and injections into infections wounds
- It can disrupt the membrane of bacterial cells, causing them to ‘explode’
By Mark Prigg
PUBLISHED: 08:14 EST, 25 January 2013 | UPDATED: 08:29 EST, 25 January 2013
IBM has revealed a hi-tech gel that could obliterate hospital superbugs.
The computer firm hopes its breakthrough could replace antibiotics.
The new antimicrobial ‘hydrogel’ could be used for creams, coating for medical instruments and injections into infections wounds.
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HOW IT WORKS
The new gel attacks microbial biofilms, which are adhesive groupings of bacteria diseased cells present in 80% of all infections.
When applied to contaminated surfaces, the hydrogel’s positive charge attracts all negatively charged microbial membranes, like powerful gravitation into a black hole.
However, unlike most antibiotics and hydrogels, which target the internal machinery of bacteria to prevent replication, the new hydrogel kills bacteria by membrane disruption, precluding the emergence of any resistance.
Traditionally used for disinfecting various surfaces around the, antimicrobials are usually found in traditional household items like alcohol and bleach.
Antibiotics cannot penetrate the bacteria in a way that the anti-microbial gel can and IBM says its development has significant implications for the eradication of hospital superbugs.
Nearly 43,000 people contracted a hospital infection in the UK in a year, figures released last year show, and the NHS has had to pay out £20m in compensation to patients in the last three years.
James Hedrick, Advanced Organic Materials Scientist, at IBM Research, said: ‘This is a fundamentally different approach to fighting drug-resistant biofilms (groupings of bacteria).
‘When compared to capabilities of modern-day antibiotics and hydrogels, this new technology carries immense potential.
‘This new technology is appearing at a crucial time as traditional chemical and biological techniques for dealing with drug-resistant bacteria and infectious diseases are increasingly problematic.’
IBM started its nanomedicine polymer program in its research labs four years ago specifically with the mission of improving human health.
The work on the new gel has been carried out in partnership with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore.
Dr Yi-Yan Yang, Group Leader at the institute, said: ‘We were driven to develop a more effective therapy against superbugs due to the lethal threat of infection by these rapidly mutating microbes and the lack of novel antimicrobial drugs to fight them.
‘Using the inexpensive and versatile polymer materials that we have developed jointly with IBM, we can now launch a nimble, multi-pronged attack on drug-resistant biofilms which would help to improve medical and health outcomes.’
According to a recent Health Protection Agency report, some six per cent of patients acquire an infection of hospital during their stay.
The news comes as Britain’s top health official warned that the world faces a massive threat from resistant superbugs that are more serious than global warming.
Chief medical officer Prof Dame Sally Davies told MPs that for some infections, such as gonorrhoea, there is only one effective antibiotic left to treat them.
Prof Davies said: ‘It is clear that we might not ever see global warming. But the apocalyptic scenario is that when I need a new hip in 20 years, I’ll die from a routine infection because we’ve run out of antibiotics.’
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