IBM's Tiny Technology Rips Up Drug-Resistant Germ Cells in Early Research
- IBM's Tiny Technology Rips Up Drug-Resistant Germ Cells in Early Research
By Rob Waters - Apr 3, 2011
International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), the world's largest computer-services provider, may have a tiny solution for a $34 billion public health problem.
Engineers based in IBM's San Jose, California, facility created nanoparticles 50,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair that can search out and obliterate the cell walls of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotic drugs. The minute structures harmlessly degrade, leaving no residue, according to a study describing the work in the journal Nature Chemistry.
When antibiotic drugs are used to attack a colony of bacteria, they sometimes leave behind survivors that become resistant to the medicine's future use. IBM's nanoparticles were able to find and destroy the cells of resistant germs during testing in laboratory dishes. They also caused no apparent harm in separate tests in mice, the research found.
IBM's technology "goes outside the scheme of current antibiotics to something that physically destroys bacteria," said Mario Raviglione, chief of the World Health Organization's Stop TB department, in a telephone interview. "If this is proven to work in humans, it will simply revolutionize the way we deal with antimicrobial treatment."
The nanoparticles, were designed to attack methicillin- resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a widely circulating strain of drug-resistant bacteria. An IBM team led by James Hedrick collaborated with scientists at the Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore.
Talking to Drugmakers
IBM is also talking to pharmaceutical companies to prepare the particles for human testing, Hedrick said. He declined to name the companies.
Germs that resist antibiotics kill 100,000 U.S. hospital patients a year and cost the healthcare system as much as $34 billion annually, according to the Infectious Disease Society of America. Traditional antibiotics interfere with bacterial DNA to neutralize or prevent them from replicating. The nanoparticles, made of biodegradable plastic, were engineered to have a specific electrical charge that draws them to the oppositely- charged bacteria. The particles reach their target and attack.
"They rip holes in the membrane walls and the contents basically spill out," said Hedrick, a researcher at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California, where scientists pioneer new technologies. "They're very selective and once they do their job, they go away. They degrade into an innocuous by-product."
The particles are so focused on their bacterial target that they completely avoid damaging the red blood cells where the microbes lodge, Hedrick said in a telephone interview. "
Hedrick's team designed a batch of the nanoparticles to attack MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, a widely circulating strain of drug-resistant bacteria. Scientists at the nanotechnology institute in Singapore will now test the miniature polymers in larger animals.
Some 9 million children globally die of respiratory infections and diarrhea, many from pathogens impervious to drugs, the WHO's Raviglione said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Rob Waters in San Francisco at rwaters5@....
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@....