Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have developed an antibacterial hydrogel that can kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The material is conceived as a wound dressing, and is composed of antimicrobial peptides which are naturally produced by the immune system. The gel binds the peptides together and protects them, yet allows them to still kill bacteria.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing crisis. Infections caused by resistant bacteria can be extremely difficult to treat and cause significant levels of suffering and death each year. If new treatments and technologies are not developed in time, then even undergoing routine surgery could become an unacceptably risky prospect without the means to prevent or treat post-operative infections.
To prevent this dystopian future, researchers are turning to new materials and techniques to kill these bacteria. The new hydrogel is a prime example.
“With these types of peptides, there is a very low risk for bacteria to develop resistance against them, since they only affect the outermost membrane of the bacteria. That is perhaps the foremost reason why they are so interesting to work with,” said Martin Andersson, a researcher involved in the study.
While the peptides are highly effective, they are also quite delicate and rapidly degrade when they come into contact with blood. This has been a major limiting factor for researchers who hope to use them as an antibacterial treatment. However, the Swedish researchers have discovered a way to protect the peptides while still maintaining their efficacy.
They bound the peptides within a protective hydrogel, meaning that they degrade much more slowly, and the resulting hydrogel is highly suited as a topical treatment for wounds. “The material is very promising. It is harmless to the body’s own cells and gentle on the skin. In our measurements, the protective effect of the hydrogel on the antimicrobial peptides is clear – the peptides degrade much slower when they are bound to it,” said Edvin Blomstrand, another researcher involved in the study.
The researchers have developed a spin off company called Amferia AB which is working on commercializing the technology.