Drug-Resistant Fungi Destroyed by Recycled Plastics

Fungi that is drug resistant killed by plasticsDrug-resistant fungi is destroyed by a recycled plastics compound.  A new research study that was completed by IBM (California’s IBM Research-Almaden) and IBN (Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology) found that recycled plastic can help destroy drug-resistant fungi infections.  The plastics called PET (polyethylene terephthalate,) come from common plastic bottles, show positive treatment results that could be potentially life-saving against drug-resistant fungi.  When the PET plastics are converted into a non-toxic material, it destroys any drug-resistant fungi along with fungal biofilm.  This new innovation could be effective in treating skin infections as well as keratitis.  It is also a wonderful, green way to recycle such plastics that would sit for years in our landfills.

IBN’s main focus has been with developing materials and unique polymers to treat and prevent a variety of diseases.  The latest discovery helps scientists to target drug-resistant and treatment-sensitive fungi without causing harm to any surrounding healthy tissues.  Hopefully this new technology will be available in clinical settings to help many people worldwide who deal with severe fungal infections.

Over the years, infections from fungi have been on the rise due to compromised immune systems in patients due to an array of disorders, such as AIDS, cancer and organ transplants.  Candida, Aspergillus and Cryptococcus neoformans (C. neoformans) fungi have been a major cause of severe infections that can lead to potentially lethal infections within the blood stream. The CDC states that Candidiasis, caused by Candida fungi, is categorized as the fourth common blood infection among patients that are hospitalized.

Costs for treating fungi infections continue to rise.  In 2010, about $3 billion was spent worldwide in trying to treat drug-resistant fungi infections.  By 2014, such costs are expected to rise to about 6 billion.  Fungi treatment failures from conventional drug therapies are making it extremely important to develop new alternatives.  Conventional drug therapies can sometimes only slow the growth of various fungi, resulting in recurrent stronger infections down the road that may end up being entirely drug resistant.

One major hurtle researchers battle is the close metabolic relationship fungi cells have to mammalian cells.  Many anti-fungal treatments cannot find a difference between the fungi invasion and the healthy living tissue of patients.  When damage to healthy tissue occurs, patients report side effects like hemolysis and nephrotoxicity from the treatments.  That is why this new research on drug-resistant fungi that is destroyed by recycled plastics is so important.

IBM and IBN are compiling their specialized skills in order to transform the PET plastics into small compounds that come together by themselves as nanofibers within a water base.  The nanofibers then go through the fungi cell membranes and end up killing the severe infection.

The group leader of IBN, Dr Yi Yan Yang stated that the molecules within our cells have the uncanny ability to bind together into nanofibers because unlike other unique molecules, the fibers cause the cationic charges and compound mass concentrations to go up. The membrane of the fungi is then attacked causing the fungi to be killed at low doses. Thus, resulting in a very effective way of killing the infection with little damage to healthy tissue.

IBN conducted vitro studies that showed the nanofibers killed 99.9 percent of  C. albicans in one hour of growth.  Even after 11 treatments, no resistance developed.  C. albicans is also the third categorized fungi infection of the blood in the U.S as of today.  Nanofibers were also effective in treating lens-associated fungi infections in mice with no further complications.

IBN and IBM were also able to develop further breakthroughs that helped to fight the highly drug resistant  P. aeruginosa fungi.  When they combined the newly developed polymers with common antibiotics, they were able to create small holes within the fungi membranes using much lower dosages than with antibiotics alone.  The scientists have also reconfigured their biodegradable antimicrobial polycarbonates to create stronger polymers and broad-spectrum antimicrobial action along with little to no harm to mammals.  The drug-resistant fungi that is destroyed by the PET recycled plastics is an innovation in itself during this age of such high drug resistant infection problems within patients.

By: Tine Elliott




MIT Technology Review

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