Since their discovery in 1928, antibiotics have been used to fight bacterial infections. Antibiotics are supposed to kill bacteria, but increasingly, we are seeing superbugs – bacterial infections resistant to traditional antibiotic treatment.
Currently at least 700,000 people are estimated to die a year due to drug-resistant bacterial infections. That number is expected to rise to 10 million by 2050. Health professionals fear that, if no action is taken soon, we will return to an era in which bacterial infections, and thus even minor injuries, are potentially deadly.
World Health Organization officials have dubbed the importance of new treatments for several gram-negative bacteria – the bacteria that can cause e-coli, pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and UTIs – as “Priority 1 Critical.”
A team of researchers at RMIT University have been working on an alternative way of fighting bacterial infections. Instead of trying to develop a new antibiotic, they’re developing nano-sized particles of magnetic liquid metals that can kill bacteria and bacterial biofilm. Their goal? To make antibiotic resistance a thing of the past.
The process works as follows. When the tiny particles of magnetic liquid metal are exposed to a low intensity magnetic field, their shape begins to change and they start developing razor sharp edges. These tiny particles are then placed in close contact with a bacterial biofilm – a protected area where bacteria live and multiply. The movement and super-sharp edges of the magnetic liquid metal then begin to break down the biofilm and effectively destroy the bacterial cells.
This bacteria-destroying technology was tested on two different types of bacterial biofilms – gram-negative bacteria and gram-positive bacteria – and after an hour and a half of contact with the metal nano-particles, the bacterial biofilms were destroyed and 99 percent of the bacteria had been killed. The best part? The particles didn’t destroy any of the healthy, normal, human cells!
The RMIT research team, led by Drs. Aaron Elbourne, ViKhanh Truong, and James Chapman, is currently at the pre-clinical trial stage, with animal testing underway. They hope to begin clinical trials on humans in the coming years.
Testing, thus, is still in the early stages, but the possibilities for this bacteria-destroying technology are enormous. In addition to treating or preventing a wide range of bacterial infections, it can potentially treat fungal infections, cholesterol plaque, and heart problems. The RMIT research team also wishes to see if it can be used to destroy tumors (with the liquid metal nano-particles being injected into cancer cells).