Antibiotic-resistant bacteria and infectious diseases, like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), are big problems in institutions like jails, hospitals and schools where people come in close contact with one another. And these infections are, almost by definition, extremely difficult to fight. Somewhat surprisingly, one solution could come from the world of semiconductors. IBM, along with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, used principles involved in semiconductor development to make new nanostructures that detect and destroy antibiotic-resistant infections.
According to an IBM release, these nanostructures are physically attracted to infected cells like a magnet, allowing them to selectively eradicate bacteria without destroying surrounding healthy cells. The agents also prevent bacteria from developing drug resistance by breaking through the bacterial cell wall and membrane. This approach, according to IBM, is a fundamentally different mode of attack compared to traditional antibiotics.
"The number of bacteria in the palm of a hand outnumbers the entire human population," IBM's James Hedrick said in the release. "With this discovery we've been able to leverage decades of materials development traditionally used for semiconductor technologies to create an entirely new delivery mechanism that could make drugs more specific and effective."
The way it works is this: Once the polymers come into contact with water in or on the body, they self assemble into a new polymer structure that is designed to target bacteria membranes based on electrostatic interaction and break through their cell membranes and walls. The physical nature of this action prevents bacteria from developing resistance to these nanoparticles.
The researchers picture commercial products based on this technology that can be injected directly into the body or applied topically to the skin, treating skin infections through consumer products such as deodorant, soap, hand sanitizer and table wipes.