Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, leads to infections that are difficult or impossible to treat with conventional antibiotics. While there are some treatment options currently available, as well as some potential antibiotic treatments that are in various stages of regulatory approval, I often fear we’re quickly approaching a time when antibiotics simply no longer work – and that is a very scary thought.
Fortunately, new ways of treating MRSA are in development, including what sounds like a very promising approach using nanotechnology, pioneered by IBM and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. This approach uses nanostructures that are only attracted to infected cells, leaving healthy tissue alone. Furthermore, they destroy bacteria in a manner fundamentally different than the mechanism of action used with antibiotics, ensuring that bacteria cannot develop resistance to the treatment.
From an IBM press release:
Once these polymers come into contact with water in or on the body, they self assemble into a new polymer structure that is designed to target bacteria membranes based on electrostatic interaction and break through their cell membranes and walls. The physical nature of this action prevents bacteria from developing resistance to these nanoparticles.
The electric charge naturally found in cells is important because the new polymer structures are attracted only to the infected areas while preserving the healthy red blood cells the body needs to transport oxygen throughout the body and combat bacteria.
Because the polymers are biodegradable, researchers envision using this technology for a number of potential applications, including consumer products like deodorant, antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizer. From the sound of it, this would be a broad-spectrum treatment, not only being used to treat MRSA but also drug-resistant tuberculosis and other serious infections.
Although this is only in the very early stages of research, if it works, it would be a game-changer – not only for treating MRSA but for nanomedicine, as well.