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Buckyball Antibiotics

Soccer-ball-shaped molecules called buckyballs, or fullerenes, could soon help antibiotics find their goals. Lon Wilson, a chemist at Rice University, has fabricated an antibiotic-fullerene complex that’s able to target specific tissues; this new type of molecule opens the possibility of treating infections with far greater efficiency than is possible with conventional drugs.

To treat the bacterial bone infections that occur in a small percentage of patients who undergo orthopedic surgery, for example, Wilson attached two molecules of a potent antibiotic called vancomycin to a fullerene molecule. Then, at a different site on the buckyball, he attached another chemical, which binds only to bone. Because the treatment, which was developed in collaboration with an orthopedic surgeon at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, precisely targets just the tissue that’s affected by the bacteria, patients wouldn’t need as large a dose of the antibiotic to treat their infections. Wilson hopes to test the new antibiotic in animals in the next year. He is also working on buckyball versions of the antibiotic Cipro for treating anthrax infections. Such drugs could latch on to anthrax spores in the lungs and destroy the pathogen before it releases its toxin.

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