Fighting superbugs with antimicrobial hydrogel
Researchers from IBM and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), Singapore, revealed an antimicrobial hydrogel that can break through diseased biofilms and deal with drug-resistant bacteria upon contact. The synthetic hydrogel is the biodegradable, biocompatible and non-toxic, and its ability to form spontaneously when heated to body temperature makes it ideal for combat against health hazards.
Microbial biofilms can be formed on almost any tissue or surface. These adhesive groupings of diseased cells make 80% of all infections. Antimicrobials can be found in traditional household items like alcohol and bleach, since they are used to disinfect various surfaces. Folks from IBM Research and their collaborators managed to find a way to use antimicrobials for a more effective therapy against superbugs.
They employed precise tailoring of polymers to design macromolecules – a molecular structure containing a large number of atoms, which combine water solubility, positive charge, and biodegradability characteristics.
“This is a fundamentally different approach to fighting drug-resistant biofilms. When compared to capabilities of modern-day antibiotics and hydrogels, this new technology carries immense potential”, said James Hedrick, Advanced Organic Materials Scientist, IBM Research, “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.”
So, how these antimicrobial hydrogels work?
“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”, said
Dr Yi-Yan Yang, IBN Group Leader.
Once mixed with water and heated to body temperature, the polymers start to self-assemble and grow into a synthetic gel that is easy to manipulate. Analogous to how zipper teeth link together, the short segments on the new polymers also interlock, thickening the water-based solution into re-moldable and compliant hydrogels. Since they behave similarly to water-soluble polymers without being freely dissolved, such materials can remain in place under physiological conditions without interruption of antimicrobial activity.
When applied to contaminated surfaces, the hydrogel’s positive charge attracts all negatively charged microbial membranes. However, unlike most antibiotics and hydrogels, which target the internal machinery of bacteria to prevent replication, this hydrogel destroys the bacteria by membrane disruption.
The antimicrobial hydrogel developed by IBM Research and IBN is comprised of more than 90 percent water, making it easy to handle and apply to surfaces. If commercialized, it is deal for creams or injectable therapeutics for wound healing, implant and catheter coatings, skin infections or even orifice barriers.
For more information, read the article published in the Angewandte Chemie: “Broad-Spectrum Antimicrobial and Biofilm-Disrupting Hydrogels: Stereocomplex-Driven Supramolecular Assemblies”.