The IBM researchers believe the drug could be injected intravenously to treat people with life-threatening infections. Or it could be made into a gel that could be applied to wounds to treat or prevent infection.
However, Chan-Park cautions, other drugs that work by this membrane-piercing mechanism have not been very successful so far. Those that have shown early promise on the lab bench either were toxic to animal cells or simply didn’t work in the complex environment of the human body.
More tests will be needed to say definitively whether the nanoparticles are safe and will work in people. Initial tests of the IBM particles with human blood cells and in live mice have been promising. Allen says the nanoparticles didn’t interact with human blood cells because their electrical charge is significantly greater than that of bacterial cells. There were no signs of toxicity in mice injected with the particles, and none of them died.
In addition to developing nanoparticles that can attack other types of bacteria, the IBM group is working on making larger quantities of the designer polymers, scaling up from the current two-gram capacity to the kilogram quantities needed for larger clinical tests. IBM won’t be getting into the pharmaceutical business, says Allen, but the company plans to partner with a healthcare company to license the polymer drugs.