IBM and The Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology Develop New Antimicrobial Hydrogel to Fight Superbugs and Drug-Resistant Biofilms

Applications range from protective coating to sterilize hospital surfaces and  medical equipment or as an injection to more effectively treat patients 

SAN JOSE, Calif. – 24 Jan 2013:

Researchers from IBM (NYSE: IBM) and the  Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology revealed today an antimicrobial  hydrogel that can break through diseased biofilms and completely eradicate  drug-resistant bacteria upon contact. The synthetic hydrogel, which forms  spontaneously when heated to body temperature, is the first-ever to be  biodegradable, biocompatible and non-toxic, making it an ideal tool to combat  serious health hazards facing hospital workers, visitors and patients.

Traditionally used for disinfecting various surfaces, antimicrobials can be  found in traditional household items like alcohol and bleach. However, moving  from countertops to treating drug resistant skin infections or infectious  diseases in the body are proving to be more challenging as conventional  antibiotics become less effective and many household surface disinfectants are  not suitable for biological applications.

IBM Research and its collaborators developed a remoldable synthetic  antimicrobial hydrogel, comprised of more than 90% water, which, if  commercialized, is ideal for applications like creams or injectable therapeutics  for wound healing, implant and catheter coatings, skin infections or even  orifice barriers.

Able to colonize on almost any tissue or surface, microbial biofilms – which  are adhesive groupings of diseased cells present in 80% of all infections –  persist at various sites in the human body, especially in association with  medical equipment and devices. They contribute significantly to  hospital-acquired infections, which are among the top five leading causes of  death in the United States and account for up to $11 billion in healthcare  spending each year.

Despite advanced sterilization and aseptic techniques, infections associated  with medical devices have not been eradicated. This is due, in part, to the  development of drug-resistant bacteria. According to the CDC, antibiotic drug  resistance in the U.S. costs an estimated $20 billion a year in healthcare costs  as well as 8 million additional days spent in the hospital.

Through the precise tailoring of polymers, researchers designed  macromolecules, a molecular structure containing a large number of atoms, which  combine water solubility, positive charge, and biodegradability characteristics.  When mixed with water and heated to body temperature the polymers self-assemble,  swelling into a synthetic gel that is easy to manipulate. This highly desirable  capability stems from self-associative interactions that create a “molecular  zipper” effect. Analogous to how zipper teeth link together, the short segments  on the new polymers also interlock, thickening the water-based solution into  re-moldable and compliant hydrogels. Since they exhibit many of the  characteristics of water-soluble polymers without being freely dissolved, such  materials can remain in place under physiological conditions while still  demonstrating antimicrobial activity.

“This is a fundamentally different approach to fighting drug-resistant  biofilms. When compared to capabilities of modern-day antibiotics and hydrogels,  this new technology carries immense potential,” said James Hedrick, Advanced  Organic Materials Scientist, IBM Research, “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.”

When applied to contaminated surfaces, the hydrogel’s positive charge  attracts all negatively charged microbial membranes, like powerful gravitation  into a blackhole. However, unlike most antibiotics and hydrogels, which target  the internal machinery of bacteria to prevent replication, this hydrogel kills  bacteria by membrane disruption, precluding the emergence of any resistance.

“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, Group Leader,  Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Singapore.

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.

This research was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal, Angewandte  Chemie.

For additional information, including high-resolution images and videos  explaining the discovery, visit Contact(s)  information

Ari Entin IBM Media Relations 1 (408) 927-2272

Christina Howell IBM Media Relations 1 (408) 927-1407


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