Researchers at IBM are designing nanoparticles that kill bacteria by poking holes in them. The scientists hope that the microbes are less likely to develop resistance to this type of drug, which means it could be used to combat the emerging problem of antibiotic resistance. This type of drug has not had much success in clinical trials in the past, but initial tests of the nanoparticles in animals are promising.
Drug-resistant bacteria have become a major problem. In 2005, nearly 95,000 people in the United States developed a life-threatening staph infection resistant to multiple antibiotics, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It takes just one to two decades for microbes to develop resistance to traditional antibiotics that target a particular metabolic pathway inside the cell, says Mary B. Chan-Park, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, who was not involved with the research. In contrast, drugs that compromise microbes’ cell membranes are believed to be less likely, or slower, to evoke resistance, she says.