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Computer giant IBM turns to germ warfare.

SAN FRANCISCO: International Business Machines (IBM), the world's largest computer-services provider, is developing a technology that searches out drug-resistant germs in the body and destroys them, addressing a $34 billion-a-year public health problem.

Engineers based in IBM's San Jose, California, facility have created nano-particles 50,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair that can obliterate the cell walls of drug-resistant bacteria. The structures then harmlessly degrade, leaving no residue, according to a study describing the work in the journal Nature Chemistry.

When antibiotic drugs are used to attack a colony of bacteria, they sometimes leave behind survivors that become resistant to the medicine's future use. These germs kill 100,000 US hospital patients a year, according to the Infectious Disease Society of America.

IBM's technology "goes outside the scheme of current antibiotics to something that physically destroys bacteria," said Mario Raviglione, chief of the World Health Organisation's Stop TB department, in a telephone interview. "If this is proven to work in humans, it will simply revolutionise the way we deal with antimicrobial treatment."

Traditional antibiotics interfere with bacterial DNA to neutralise or prevent them from replicating.

The nano-particles, made of biodegradable plastic, were engineered to have a specific electrical charge that draws them to the oppositely charged bacteria.

Tests in laboratory dishes confirmed that they have the ability to destroy the cells. They also caused no harm in separate tests in mice, the research found.

The technology was designed by an IBM team led by James Hedrick that collaborated with scientists at the Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore. The scientists specifically aimed the nano-particles at methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a widely circulating strain of drug-resistant bacteria.

IBM, based in Armonk, New York, is now talking to pharmaceutical companies to prepare the particles for human testing, Hedrick said.

He declined to name the companies.

The nano-particles "rip holes in the membrane walls and the contents basically spill out," said Hedrick, a researcher at IBM's Almaden Research Centre. "They're very selective and once they do their job, they go away. They degrade into an innocuous by-product."

The particles are so focused on their bacterial target that they completely avoid damaging the red blood cells where the microbes lodge, Hedrick said in a telephone interview.

" Hedrick's team designed a batch of the nano-particles to attack MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, a widely circulating strain of drug-resistant bacteria. Scientists at the nanotechnology institute in Singapore will now test the miniature polymers in larger animals.

Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2011

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Date:Apr 5, 2011
Words:431
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