AsianScientist (Jan. 28, 2013) – Researchers from IBM and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore have designed a new antimicrobial hydrogel that can break through diseased biofilms and eradicate drug-resistant bacteria upon contact.
The synthetic hydrogel, which forms spontaneously when heated to body temperature, is also biodegradable, biocompatible, and non-toxic, making it an ideal tool to combat serious health hazards facing hospital workers, visitors and patients.
Traditionally used for disinfecting various surfaces, antimicrobials can be found in traditional household items like alcohol and bleach. However, household surface disinfectants are not suitable for biological applications.
Conventional antibiotics are also ineffective as a treatment for certain microbial biofilms and skin infections, due, in part, to the development of drug-resistant bacteria, known informally as ‘superbugs.’
As described in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the researchers developed a remoldable synthetic antimicrobial polymer, which, when mixed with water and heated to body temperature self-assembles, swelling into a synthetic gel that is easy to manipulate. This highly desirable capability stems from self-associative interactions that create a ‘molecular zipper’ effect.
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 exhibit many of the characteristics of water-soluble polymers without being freely dissolved, such materials can remain in place under physiological conditions while still demonstrating antimicrobial activity.
When applied to contaminated surfaces, the hydrogel’s positive charge attracts all negatively charged microbial membranes, like powerful gravitation into a blackhole. However, unlike most antibiotics and hydrogels, which target the internal machinery of bacteria to prevent replication, this hydrogel kills bacteria by membrane disruption, precluding the emergence of any resistance.
“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, Group Leader at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.
The authors say that the anti-microbial hydrogel, if commercialized, will be ideal for applications like creams or injectable therapeutics for wound healing, implant and catheter coatings, skin infections, or even orifice barriers.
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