Last month, the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance warned of a possible future in which emerging superbugs render current antibiotics ineffective, and called for more research into developing new drugs to help prevent that scenario. Thankfully, we've seen some promising developments in recent years and now scientists in Singapore have contributed to the effort with the creation of a new material that not only kills microbes quickly, but prevents antibiotic-resistant bacteria from growing in their place.
The material, which is called imidazolium oligomers, was developed by scientists at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), a branch of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore. Impressively, the compound has been shown to kill 99.7 percent of E. coli bacteria within 30 seconds.
But it's not just a quick killer, it's an effective one to boot. Thanks to a chain-like molecular structure, imidazolium oligomers is able to penetrate and destroy the cell membrane of bacteria, keeping new antibiotic-resistant strains from springing up. Other antibiotics will kill the microbes, but neglect to clean up after themselves.
Its effectiveness against other antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Candida albicans, was demonstrated as well, with the compound killing 99.9 percent of these microbes in under two minutes.
"Our unique material can kill bacteria rapidly and inhibit the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria," says IBN Group Leader, Dr Yugen Zhang. "Computational chemistry studies supported our experimental findings that the chain-like compound works by attacking the cell membrane. This material is also safe for use because it carries a positive charge that targets the more negatively charged bacteria, without destroying red blood cells."
The team's compound was developed as an alternative to triclosan, a common ingredient in hygiene products like soap and toothpaste which has been shown to aid antibiotic resistance. The team says the new material, which takes the form of a water-soluble white powder, could be a viable replacement in these applications and could be used in alcoholic sprays used for sterilization in homes and hospitals.
"The global threat of drug-resistant bacteria has given rise to the urgent need for new materials that can kill and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria," says IBN Executive Director, Professor Jackie Y. Ying. "Our new antimicrobial material could be used in consumer and personal care products to support good personal hygiene practices and prevent the spread of infectious diseases."
The team's research is published in the journal Small.