Scientists discover way to fight drug-resistant bacteria using light

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have found a new way to fight drug-resistant bacteria using light-activated nanoparticles.

Bacterial infections are usually treated easily with antibiotics, but some bacteria, known as “superbugs,” can adapt to survive the efforts of drugs like penicillin. According to the CDC, superbugs affect around 2 million people and kill around 23,000 people in the United States every year. The problem is that with each new form of antibiotic that is developed, bacteria quickly adapt to be able to survive whatever new attack is thrown at them.

Researches have now begun to utilize extremely small particles (22,000 times smaller than a human hair) to target and kill infected cells. Previous research has shown some success with using nanoparticles to fight infections, but relied on particles made from metals, which kill all cells rather than just those infected. This new approach uses semiconductor-like particles, which are only activated when exposed to light, making them able to target and kill individual cells. The light-activation property of these particles also allows scientists to tinker with their function and stay one step ahead of bacteria. In short, these nanoparticles are promising because they don’t kill healthy cells and they can adapt just as quickly as the bacteria they are fighting: two things which can’t be said of traditional antibiotics. And these nanoparticles are proving effective, killing 92 percent of drug-resistant bacteria in a lab-grown culture.

Antibiotics are not only baseline treatment for infections like Staphylococcus, E. Coli, and Salmonella, but are also used to treat HIV and cancer, which makes clear how consequential these findings could be.

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