IBM Creates New Antimicrobial Hydrogel to Fight Superbugs and Drug-Resistant Biofilms
“We were driven to develop a more effective therapy against superbugs due to the lethal threat of infection by these rapidly mutating microbes and the lack of novel antimicrobial drugs to fight them. 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,” said Dr Yi-Yan Yang, the group leader working on the project at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore, in a statement. The IBM nanomedicine polymer program -- which started in IBM's Research labs only four years ago with the mission to improve human health – stems from decades of materials development traditionally used for semiconductor technologies. This advance will expand the scope of IBM and IBN’s collaborative program, allowing scientists to simultaneously pursue multiple methods for creating materials to improve medicine and drug discovery. An industry and institute collaboration of this scale brings together the minds and resources of several leading scientific institutions to address the complex challenges in making practical nanomedicine solutions a reality. Hedrick said IBM’s work comes out of the systems giant’s nanomedicine efforts, in particular the company’s hunt to enable chemotherapeutics that improve cancer therapy without wracking the patient’s body with side effects. “A lot of the chemistry we were working on for other applications was easily transferrable to the medical space,” Hedrick said. “The antimicrobial polymer mimicked the way our body’s immune system works.”He said the hydrogel could be used as not only for wound healing and skin infections, but also to treat biofilm colonies that might form around replacement joints to prevent additional corrective surgery, as well as for cleaning equipment and surfaces for food and beverage preparation. However, while IBM is instrumental in creating the technology that makes this hydrogel work, the company will not be building any products or services around it, Hedrick said. Instead, the company will act out the narrative in the old BASF commercials with the tagline: "At BASF, we don't make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better." “IBM is not going to make pharmaceuticals, but we will partner with other companies in a variety of areas,” Hedrick told eWEEK. “The way we work here in the Smarter Planet arena is that we create a lot of things that will not become products, but that help us deliver other things to our clients.” Hedrick said IBM is partnering with a variety of partners that include consumer products manufacturers of things like anti-dandruff shampoos, deodorants, cleaning supplies, wound care and healing products, coatings, as well as pharmaceuticals. “IBM does not do animal testing or anything of that nature; our partners at IBN do some of that,” Hedrick said. “They do a beautiful job of all the bio-engineering. We bring along the chemistry.” IBM has been very active in the polymer chemistry field for 30 years, Hedrick said. In a related project at IBM’s Almaden research center, multifunctional polymer micelles and dendrimers are being designed, synthesized and tested for the co-delivery of therapeutic agents to combat drug-resistance and improve cancer therapy, as well as for simultaneous therapy and diagnostics, he said.
The hydrogel works for gram-positive bacteria such as MRSA, gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli, as well as yeast and fungi infections, Hedrick said.