A patient undergoes knee replacement surgery and is released from the hospital. Over time, a skin infection develops on the operated knee. The usual suspect is a bacterial infection called Methicillin-resistant Staphycoloccus aureus, or MRSA, which is so defiant against antiobiotics, that the only way to remove the bacteria is to reverse the knee replacement, bringing the patient back to square one.
There are a multitude of scenarios that we see in which people contract MRSA, and in densely populated cities like the San Francisco Bay Area, full on outbreaks occur (San Francisco ranked 3rd in the United States for most instances of MRSA in 2005).
We wanted to study MRSA for its prevalence but also because of its scientific characteristics. MRSA, called a "super bug," is very resistant to antibiotics and is also gram-positive, meaning there is a single cell membrane vs. dual in gram-negative bacteria. For us, that makes it easier to develop polymers that would penetrate the cell walls and destroy from the inside out. In our paper published yesterday in Nature Chemistry, we explain just how we did it.
Another important component of this breakthrough is that the nanostructures that we developed are electrically charged to be physically attracted to infected cells only - leaving the healthy cells alone. While work like this has been done by our peers, the key differentiating factor is that we have developed the first biodegradable agent. You can read more about it here.
In the science and technology group at IBM Research – Almaden, we’ve spent decades working on nanotechnology techniques that have improved semiconductors for electronic device storage, high-performance computing, solar technology and more. In applying some of the intellectual property learned from these areas, we've moved into entirely new business markets and are now partnering in new ways.
Top, right: Lead IBM researcher James Hedrick in the lab at IBM Research - Almaden
Bottom, center: The antimicrobial agents developed by IBM Research and the Institute for Bioengineering and Nanomedicine attack the infected cells while protecting healthy red blood cells.
Content provided with contributions from Bob Miller, Manager, Advanced Organic Materials, IBM Research - Almaden.
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