IBM research: hydrogels of “ninja polymers” to fight drug-resistant bacteria

Most of what I read on antibiotic resistance, hospital-acquired infections (HAI) are very depressing. Humanity seems to be an accelerating train — the destination a pre-antibiotic world — where surgery is often a death sentence.

Today I read of a possibly optimistic development: Breaking the bacteria barrier. The IBM Research hydrogel uses a novel attack by rupturing the bacteria’s membrane, rendering it completely unable to regenerate or spread. The researchers envision the first healthcare application to be surface decontamination. That’s very important in infection control, so it’s not a small thing if it works as they hope. The following image comes from IBM Research Hydrogels TUMBLR blog, where you can find more background on this research, and hopefully updates as they are announced.

On the left is a mature and healthy MRSA biofilm. After the hydrogel is applied, the biofilm is destroyed as seen on the right. Photo Credit: IBN <

I’ve just followed @IBMResearch  — there will be a a hydrogel chat in a couple of weeks. I’ll be looking for that announcement on Twitter/Tumblr. Since this is the corporate research twitter there will probably be a lot of traffic. I will suggest a #hydrogel hashtag to at least give us a chance of following developments.

It isn’t obvious to me how bacteria will develop resistance to this mechanism of action. Am I missing something there? The IBM team has looked at an injectable application of the gel – e.g., at the site of an infection.

What we all are hoping for is that this research could lead to the equivalent of a broad spectrum antibiotic effective against the growing number of super-bugs.

If you read German, the full paper is available here: Broad-Spectrum Antimicrobial and Biofilm-Disrupting Hydrogels: Stereocomplex-Driven Supramolecular Assemblies.

BTW, CDC has redefined HAI to be “Healthcare-associated infections” which is more accurate.

2 thoughts on “IBM research: hydrogels of “ninja polymers” to fight drug-resistant bacteria

  1. Oh, another depressing aspect of this is that antibiotic resistance is mostly a result of inappropriate and over prescription of antibiotics by physicians. Almost all of the physicians with whom I have worked greatly over-prescribe antibiotics. It is the rare exception to find a physician, PA, or nurse practitioner who does not.

    Agricultural use of antibiotics dwarfs the use of antibiotics by humans and this magnifies the scope of the problem.

    A great book on this subject is *The Antibiotic Paradox* by Stewart Levy. I knew his late father.


  2. Thanks for your comments. You might find the Seekerblog Antibiotic Resistance tag search leads to some useful sources. 

     Agricultural use of antibiotics dwarfs the use of antibiotics by humans and this magnifies the scope of the problem.

    See Denmark: results of stopping NTA (non-therapeutic antimicrobials) where I think they have demonstrated in the real world that feeding antibiotics to healthy animals is NOT necessary to industrial scale agriculture. 

    I hope that tag search turns up a study I found on NZ chicken plant workers. My recall is that some 60% of the workers were carriers of MRSA. 

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