IBM and The Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology have developed a new biodegradable, biocompatible antimicrobial hydrogel that ruptures diseased biofilms and eliminates drug-resistant bacteria.
The non-toxic remoldable synthetic hydrogel, which is over 90% water, can be used to sterilise hospital surfaces and medical equipment or can be used as a cream or injectable therapeutic to effectively treat patients.
IBM Research advanced organic materials scientist James Hedrick said the technology is a new way of fighting drug-resistant biofilms.
"This new technology is appearing at a crucial time as traditional chemical and biological techniques for dealing with drug-resistant bacteria and infectious diseases are increasingly problematic," Hedrick said.
Researchers tailored polymers to design macromolecules with characteristic features such as water solubility, positive charge and biodegradability.
Upon mixing with water and heating to body temperature, the polymers assemble and swell to form a synthetic gel through self-associative interactions, thereby creating a molecular zipper effect.
The zipper effect will make short segments on the new polymers interlock and solidify the water-based solution into re-moldable hydrogel.
When applied on to contaminated surfaces, hydrogel's positive charge attracts all negatively charged microbial membranes, disrupts the bacterial membrane and does not allow the bacteria to develop resistance.
Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology group leader Dr Yi-Yan Yang said; "Using the inexpensive and versatile polymer materials that we have developed jointly with IBM, we can now launch a nimble, multi-pronged attack on drug-resistant biofilms which would help to improve medical and health outcomes."