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IBM uses chip engineering to beat MRSA

IBM and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology have discovered new types of polymers which seek out and destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria and infectious diseases such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

According to IBM, the MRSA breakthrough applies the same principles used in semiconductor manufacturing. The polymers are nanostructures physically attracted to the infected cells like a magnet. This allows them to selectively get rid of stubborn bacteria without damage to the healthy cells surrounding them. The nanostructures are also physically able to break through the bacterial cell wall preventing the bacteria from spreading and building up drug resistance.

Tested in China, these polymers specifically aim to target infected areas of the body which tend to be rejected by many of today’s conventional antibiotics. The polymers only become active once they are in the body or come into contact with water. Assembling themselves into a new structure, they are then able to attack bacterial membranes based on electrostatic interaction. Unlike most antimicrobial substances, the polymers are also biodegradable causing them to be naturally eliminated from the body over time rather than gathering in the organs.

"The number of bacteria in the palm of a hand outnumbers the entire human population," said Dr. James Hedrick, advanced organic materials scientist at IBM Research. "With this discovery we've been able to leverage decades of materials development traditionally used for semiconductor technologies to create an entirely new delivery mechanism that could make drugs more specific and effective," Hedrick claims.

Should these nanostructures go on the market, they could be injected directly into the body or applied directly to the skin, treating skin infections through basic toiletries such as deodorant, soap and hand sanitiser.