A new polymer could yield promising defense against drug-resistant bacteria that cause wound infections.

Superbugs are one of the most worrisome of all the modern medical scourges. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria are plentiful, resulting in more than 2 million illnesses annually, according to the Harvard School of Medicine.

To improve the medical community’s odds of effectively combating these superbugs, researchers across the globe have developed a number of new and innovative techniques. For instance, a team from Columbia University has used specialized UV light to destroy the bacteria. Meanwhile, a group from the U.K. found that chemical manipulation can impede this bacteria.

A PhD student at the University of Melbourne has recently unveiled another exciting form of therapy that can prevent wound infections. And while this new method is still in the early stages, it is already being heralded as having the potential to change the entire scope of modern medicine, as The Telegraph reported.

A Powerful Polymer

The breakthrough, published in a recent edition of the journal Nature Microbiology, is a marvel because it fights these superbugs without the use of antibiotics. As lead author Shu Lam (the aforementioned PhD student) explained in the study, constant exposure to antibiotics is one of the reasons that superbugs have become so prevalent in the first place.

Lam’s specially engineered star-shaped polymer enters the superbugs and rips them apart from the inside. The polymer targets the cellular walls of the bacteria, and once this structure is destabilized, the bacteria breaks down without the necessary support. Lam said she calls the polymer SNAPPs (structurally nanoengineered antimicrobial peptide polymers), and it was designed to target only bacteria and not otherwise healthy cells.

The peptide molecules are too large to enter into the healthy cells, and the authors illustrated the size difference between the two using the scale of a mouse (the non-bacterial cells) and an elephant (the peptide molecules). So far, the SNAPPs have been used to counter six strains of bacteria in live mice. The SNAPPs destroyed the bugs during every single experiment. Not only that, but the bacteria never developed a resistance, which means that the SNAPPs might remain effective for the long run.

Lam will continue her research into the near future, including trying to find ways to make the SNAPPs more efficient. This new development is another exciting step in the ongoing war against harmful superbugs.

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