A team of research scientists at IBM and Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) have drawn upon years of expertise in semiconductor technology and material discovery to crack the code for safely destroying the antibiotic-resistant, and sometimes-deadly, superbug MRSA.
The stubborn methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been feared for decades by gym-goers, hospital patients and staff, and parents of schoolchildren. Enter IBM’s new “ninja polymers” which could finally defeat the formidable bacteria.
IBM says the researchers have made a nanomedicine breakthrough by converting common plastic materials such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into non-toxic and biocompatible materials designed to specifically target and attack fungal infections.
Its nanomedicine polymer program revealed that certain materials could be manipulated at the atomic level to control their movement, which in turn inspired the researchers to see what else could be done with these new kinds of polymer structures. So they started with MRSA.
“The mechanism through which these polymers fight bacteria is very different from the way an antibiotic works,” explains Jim Hedrick, a polymer chemist in IBM Research. “They try to mimic what the immune system does: the polymer attaches to the bacteria’s membrane and then facilitates destabilisation of the membrane. It falls apart, everything falls out and there’s little opportunity for it to develop resistance to these polymers.”
The result: The creation of what are now playfully known as “ninja polymers” - sticky nanostructures that quickly target infected cells in the body, destroy the harmful content inside without damaging healthy cells in the area, and then biodegrade.