A team of American scientists has come up with a creative response to superbugs, or bacteria that have developed antibiotic resistance. It is estimated that superbugs could kill an estimated 10 million people a year over the next 30 years, outpacing cancer deaths. “These are nightmare bacteria; they don’t respond to anything,” James Tour, a chemist at Rice University, said in a statement.
But Tour and a team of U.S. researchers may have discovered a way to thwart this ever-growing threat. In a study published Dec. 9 in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano, the scientists developed motorized molecules that act as tiny drills. When the scientists activate the molecules with light, they spin at 3 million rotations per second, enabling them to drill holes into the exterior walls of these deadly bacteria.
When bacteria develop a resistance to antibiotics, they often lock the medication out. But the microbes possess no defense against the mechanical rather than chemical action of the nano-drills. Once the molecules burrow holes into the walls of the bacteria, the antibiotics can get inside and kill the microbe in minutes.
“This can breathe new life into ineffective antibiotics by using them in combination with the molecular drills,” Tour said.
In trials, the researchers killed 94 percent of a pneumonia-causing pathogen. The scientists foresee initially using the molecular drills to treat a variety of bacterial infections.
“On the skin, in the lungs or in the GI tract, wherever we can introduce a light source, we can attack these bacteria,” Tour said. “Or one could have the blood flow through a light-containing external box and then back into the body to kill blood-borne bacteria.” —J.B.