IBM creates hydrogel bacteria killer to take down 'superbugs'

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nathanreading

If you thought IBM was only in the business of creating computer parts and crunching data, then you'll be as surprised as we were to learn it has a serious nanomedicine program. The goal of the four year program is to use the same micro-technology once reserved for semiconductors to improve human health. In a recent press release IBM announced its first discovery: a synthetic, bacteria-killing hydrogel.

IBM worked with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore (IBN) on its medical breakthrough. The new hydrogel breaks through dangerous, diseased "biofilms" and kills bacteria on contact by breaking down their cell membranes. The gel forms spontaneously at body temperature and is biodegradable, biocompatible and non-toxic. In simple terms, that means in theory it can work inside your body without any harm to you, and since it attacks the membranes of the cells themselves, it's much harder for bacteria to develop resistance.

If the hydrogel delivers, it will be a boon for the health care industry which is constantly battling bacteria like MRSA that become more and more resistant to treatment with drugs. The biofilms the hydrogel attacks build up in places like medical devices connected to or implanted in the body: catheters, heart valves, hip and knee implants are just a few of the kinds of surfaces that can all attract a build up of bacteria regular drugs just can't kill anymore.

Infectious disease experts and researchers have expressed interest in such a powerful disease fighting tool and call for it to be independently studied, as IBM and the IBN have not released the details of their research to the scientific community as of yet. As reported to Phys.org, while disease experts see the great potential for patients, they also urge caution. For example, if the gel can break down bacterial cell membranes, does it have any negative effects on normal, healthy cells? They also note that some antimicrobials that have worked well in laboratory testing have never translated to functional human use. Overally, the verdict seems to be cautious optimism until the new super gel is put through its paces.
 
As for the partnership between IBM's Research Labs and the IBN, this discovery is just the first example of what we hope is a fruitful marriage between traditional scientific research and an industrial powerhouse. Such a relationship could see existing nanotechnology being manufactured on a large scale, leading to rapid advances in nanomedicine and other breakthroughs that will dramatically improve our health.

IBM Press Release, via PhysOrg

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