Whether it’s in hospitals, restaurant kitchens or our homes, harmful bacteria such as E.coli are a constant concern. Making matters worse is the fact that such bacteria are increasingly developing a resistance to antibiotics. This has led to a number of research projects, which have utilized things such as blue light, cold plasma and ozone to kill germs. One of the latest non-antibiotic bacteria-slayers is a hydrogel developed by IBM Research and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore.
The hydrogel consists of water (over 90 percent of its composition), along with special polymers. When heated to body temperature, these polymers’ molecules link together like the teeth of a zipper, forming chains that give the substance its malleable, gelatinous consistency.
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The gel is non-toxic, water-soluble, biodegradable, and maintains a positive charge. That last point is particularly important, as the outer membranes of bacteria carry a negative charge. As a result, when the hydrogel is applied to an antibiotic-resistant bacterial biofilm, the bacteria are drawn to the gel, which then kills them by rupturing their membranes.
Because it’s a physical attack, the bacteria are unable to develop a resistance to the hydrogel. Additionally, the gel doesn’t harm healthy body cells, and sticks around on surfaces longer than fast-evaporating ethanol-based solutions such as hand gels.
It is hoped that once fully developed and approved, the hydrogel could be used in applications such as wound-healing creams and injections, or implant and catheter coatings. More information is available in the video below.
A coating that utilizes the same principles is currently under development at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.