A smart bacteria bomber could help save antibiotics

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Researchers at Brown University have developed a new material that they hope will one day quickly provide drugs to stop infections in wounds – but activate only when there are bacteria to kill.

The new gel material will release its drugs only in the presence of a specific enzyme that the bacteria release. Working only when needed and with a guaranteed goal can help improve patient safety, treatment efficiency and prevent bacteria from developing resistance.

“Our hypothesis is that technologies like this, which reduce the amount of drug needed for effective treatment, may also reduce both side effects and the potential for resistance,” said Anita Shukla, associate professor and lead developer. at the Brown School of Engineering. said in a press release.

The new gel material will release its drugs only in the presence of a specific enzyme that the bacteria release.

Smart delivery: The team’s drug delivery system, published in Applied materials and ACS interfacesis made from a hydrogel.

These gels are highly biocompatible and can be used to package a range of nanoparticle and small molecule drugs, or provide scaffolding for cells.

Researchers are using them to 3D print nasal organs and cartilage, to deliver slow-release vaccines, and as next-generation wound dressings.

“Smart” hydrogels that react to their environment – for example when certain temperature or pH thresholds have been reached – are also being created to deliver drugs exactly where and when they are needed.

Towards β or not towards β: Shukla and his colleagues’ smart hydrogel is designed to react to β-lactamases, enzymes released by a number of bad bacteria.

When the hydrogel is exposed to β-lactamases, it degrades, releasing the therapeutic nanoparticles it contains, hoisting the bacteria on its own firecracker.

“What’s interesting is that β-lactamases are actually a major cause of antibiotic resistance because they destroy β-lactam antibiotics, which are some of our most commonly prescribed antibiotics,” Shukla said. “But we took that bacterial defense mechanism and used it against bacteria.”

Working only when needed and with a guaranteed goal can help improve patient safety, treatment efficiency and prevent bacteria from developing resistance.

The hydrogels have been tested in the lab and on pig skin infections, and found to only release their payload when β-lactamases are present.

With further refinement, its creators hope the material can be used as a dressing that is not only more responsive and better tolerated, but also helps prevent the development of antibiotic resistance in wounds.

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