Bacteria-Killing Marvel: Scientists Develop Polymers That Defeat Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

by Liam O'Connor
6 comments
Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

Researchers have created a groundbreaking class of polymers that can effectively eliminate bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant superbugs like E. coli and MRSA, without inducing antibiotic resistance. Dr. Quentin Michaudel and his research team have developed these polymers, representing a significant advancement in combatting the growing public health threat posed by superbugs.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have become a rapidly escalating menace to public health, causing more than 2.8 million infections annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The absence of new antibiotics has heightened concerns about the potential lethality of even routine injuries and infections.

This research, led by Texas A&M University, has brought us closer to addressing this crisis. The team’s polymers are capable of eradicating bacteria by disrupting their membranes, all without inducing antibiotic resistance. Dr. Quentin Michaudel, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and the lead investigator in this study, emphasized the potential of these polymers: “The new polymers we synthesized could help fight antibiotic resistance in the future by providing antibacterial molecules that operate through a mechanism against which bacteria do not seem to develop resistance.”

The Michaudel Laboratory employed a multidisciplinary approach that bridged organic chemistry and polymer science to synthesize these innovative polymers. The key to their success lay in designing a positively charged molecule that could be repetitively linked to form a large molecule using a specially selected catalyst known as AquaMet. The catalyst’s ability to withstand a high concentration of charges and its water solubility were essential attributes in this process.

To validate their effectiveness, the researchers tested the polymers against two major types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, E. coli and MRSA, in collaboration with Dr. Jessica Schiffman’s group at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Additionally, they assessed the polymers’ toxicity against human red blood cells, a crucial step to ensure selectivity between bacteria and human cells.

Dr. Michaudel acknowledged the collaborative effort and the contributions of researchers from various institutions in achieving this milestone. He emphasized the importance of working together to identify the ideal catalyst for assembling their polymers.

The next phase of their research involves enhancing the polymers’ activity against bacteria, particularly their selectivity for bacterial cells over human cells, before progressing to in vivo assays.

This remarkable achievement is detailed in the paper titled “Ring-opening metathesis polymerization of N-methylpyridinium-fused norbornenes to access antibacterial main-chain cationic polymers,” authored by Dr. Sarah Hancock and her colleagues. The research was primarily funded by Dr. Michaudel’s National Institutes of Health Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Dr. Quentin Michaudel, originally from La Rochelle, France, has received numerous accolades throughout his career, including an NIH MIRA in 2020, a 2022 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, a 2022 American Chemical Society Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE) Young Investigator Award, and a 2021 Thieme Chemistry Journals Award. His appointment at Texas A&M includes a joint affiliation with the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

What are the key findings of this research on polymers and superbugs?

The research has yielded a novel family of polymers that can effectively eliminate antibiotic-resistant superbugs, including E. coli and MRSA, without inducing antibiotic resistance. These polymers disrupt the membranes of bacteria, offering a promising solution to combat a growing public health threat.

How significant is the issue of antibiotic resistance in today’s healthcare landscape?

Antibiotic resistance is a pressing concern, with more than 2.8 million infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria annually in the United States alone. The lack of new antibiotics has raised fears that common infections and injuries could become life-threatening.

What makes these newly developed polymers unique in the fight against superbugs?

These polymers operate through a mechanism that bacteria do not seem to develop resistance against. Unlike traditional antibiotics, they disrupt bacterial membranes, offering a new approach to tackling antibiotic resistance.

What was the role of AquaMet catalyst in this research?

AquaMet catalyst played a crucial role in the synthesis of these polymers. It was carefully chosen because of its ability to tolerate a high concentration of charges and its water solubility, which are essential characteristics for this type of polymerization.

What’s next for this research?

The researchers plan to enhance the polymers’ selectivity for bacterial cells over human cells. Their goal is to refine the polymers’ activity against bacteria before proceeding to in vivo experiments.

How was this research funded?

The primary funding for this research came from Dr. Quentin Michaudel’s National Institutes of Health Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

What accolades and awards has Dr. Quentin Michaudel received for his work?

Dr. Quentin Michaudel, the lead investigator, has received several notable awards, including an NIH MIRA in 2020, a 2022 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, a 2022 American Chemical Society Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE) Young Investigator Award, and a 2021 Thieme Chemistry Journals Award.

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6 comments

TexanPride December 28, 2023 - 5:39 am

Gig ’em, Texas A&M! _xD83E__xDD20__xD83D__xDC4D_

Reply
Reader123 December 28, 2023 - 7:42 am

cool stuff! Polymers kill bugs without resis. Sounds like big health win. _xD83E__xDDA0__xD83D__xDEAB_

Reply
BioChemWhiz December 28, 2023 - 6:27 pm

AquaMet catalyst = secret sauce? _xD83E__xDDEA__xD83E__xDD14_

Reply
HealthConscious1 December 28, 2023 - 7:38 pm

Antibiotic resistance = scary. Hope this helps! _xD83C__xDFE5__xD83D__xDC8A_

Reply
ResearchNerd88 December 28, 2023 - 8:07 pm

Link to full paper pls? Need all the deets. _xD83D__xDCC4__xD83D__xDD0D_

Reply
ScienceGeek22 December 28, 2023 - 8:39 pm

Dr. Michaudel doing amazin’ work. Impresiv awards too. _xD83C__xDFC6_

Reply

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