Microbial biofilms are a great way for infections to find shelter on just about any surface, found in a collective defense. Researchers at IBM and Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore have developed a novel hydrogel capable of penetrating biofilms and delivering antimicrobials. The material is mostly made of water (90%) and should find use in all kinds of creams, wound healing products, and coatings.
Through the precise tailoring of polymers, researchers designed macromolecules, a molecular structure containing a large number of atoms, which combine water solubility, positive charge, and biodegradability characteristics. When mixed with water and heated to body temperature the polymers self-assemble, swelling into a synthetic gel that is easy to manipulate. This highly desirable capability stems from self-associative interactions that create a “molecular zipper” effect. Analogous to how zipper teeth link together, the short segments on the new polymers also interlock, thickening the water-based solution into re-moldable and compliant hydrogels. Since they exhibit many of the characteristics of water-soluble polymers without being freely dissolved, such materials can remain in place under physiological conditions while still demonstrating antimicrobial activity. When applied to contaminated surfaces, the hydrogel’s positive charge attracts all negatively charged microbial membranes, like powerful gravitation into a blackhole. However, unlike most antibiotics and hydrogels, which target the internal machinery of bacteria to prevent replication, this hydrogel kills bacteria by membrane disruption, precluding the emergence of any resistance.