Creating a hydrogel from the polymers
Through the precise tailoring of the ninja polymers, researchers were able to create macromolecules – molecular structures containing a large number of atoms – which combine water solubility, a positive charge, and biodegradability. When mixed with water and heated to normal body temperature, the polymers self-assemble, swelling into a synthetic hydrogel that is easy to manipulate.
When applied to contaminated surfaces, the hydrogel’s positive charge attracts negatively charged microbial membranes, like stars and planets being pulled into a black hole. However, unlike other antimicrobials that target the internal machinery of bacteria to try to prevent it from replicating, this hydrogel destroys the bacteria by rupturing the bacteria’s membrane, rendering it completely unable to regenerate or spread.
The hydrogel is comprised of more than 90 percent water, making it easy to handle and apply to surfaces. It also makes it potentially viable for eventual inclusion in applications like creams or injectable therapeutics for wound healing, implant and catheter coatings, skin infections or even orifice barriers. It is the first-ever to be biodegradable, biocompatible and non-toxic, potentially making it an ideal tool to combat serious health hazards facing hospital workers, visitors and patients.
The IBM scientists in the nanomedicine polymer program along with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology have taken this research a step further and have made a nanomedicine breakthrough in which they converted common plastic materials like polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into non-toxic and biocompatible materials designed to specifically target and attack fungal infections.BCC Research reported that the treatment cost for fungal infections was $3 billion worldwide in 2010 andis expected to increase to $6 billion in 2014. In this breakthrough, the researchers identified a novel self-assembly process for broken down PET, the primary material in plastic water bottles, in which ‘super’ molecules are formed through a hydrogen bond and serve as drug carriers targeting fungal infections in the body. Demonstrating characteristics like electrostatic charge similar to polymers, the molecules are able to break through bacterial membranes and eradicate fungus, then biodegrade in the body naturally. This is important to treat eye infections associated with contact lenses, and bloodstream infections like Candida.