New Light-Activated Nanotherapy Suggested for Terminating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder have proposed a light-activated and adaptive nanotherapy. They propose that the new therapy will help humans to fight-off drug-resistant bacteria.

Salmonella bacteria under a microscope. Photo by NIAID / Wikipedia.

Annually, in the U.S, at least 23,000 people are killed and around 2 million people are infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria that include Staphylococcus, Salmonella, and E. Coli. Efforts by researchers to prevent the survival of these “superbugs” have often failed due to the bacteria’s power to quickly develop a immunity to penicillin and other common antibiotics.

The journal Nature Materials published the findings of the researchers at the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the BioFrontiers Institute. The researchers have focused on "quantum dots", a new developed light-activated therapeutic nanoparticle. Quantum dots resemble small semiconductors that are used in consumer electronics and they are 20,000 times smaller than a strand of human hair. In a lab-grown culture, the quantum dots successfully terminated 92 percent of bacterial cells that are drug-resistant.

By shrinking these semiconductors down to the nanoscale, we’re able to create highly specific interactions within the cellular environment that only target the infection.

Prashant Nagpal, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, CU-Boulder

Metal nanoparticles (created using gold or silver) have been proven to be effective in combating antibiotic resistant infections, though they can also indiscriminately damaged surrounding cells.

Based on light activated properties, quantum dots can be tailored to infections. The dots become active in exposure to light, and are inactive in darkness. This enables researchers to alter the wavelength to change and kill the infected cells.

While we can always count on these superbugs to adapt and fight the therapy, we can quickly tailor these quantum dots to come up with a new therapy and therefore fight back faster in this evolutionary race.

Prashant Nagpal, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, CU-Boulder

This new innovation could help to eliminate or reduce the side effects of several treatment methods, it also allows for future clinical trials and development.

Antibiotics are not just a baseline treatment for bacterial infections, but HIV and cancer as well,. Failure to develop effective treatments for drug-resistant strains is not an option, and that’s what this technology moves closer to solving.

sAnushree Chatterjee, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, CU-Boulder

Nagpal and Chatterjee are the co-founders of PRAAN Biosciences, Inc., a Boulder, Colorado-based startup that can arrange genetic profiles using just a single molecule technology, that may help in the diagnosis and treatment of superbug strains. The authors have filed a patent on the new quantum dot technology.

The new study was co-authored by Colleen Courtney, Samuel Goodman and Jessica McDaniel, all of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at CU-Boulder; and Nancy Madinger of the University of Colorado Anschutz.

The W.M. Keck Foundation and the National Science Foundation supported the research.

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