Obliterating Disease With Nanodrills

Aaryan Harshith
4 min readMar 14, 2020

Researchers from Rice, Texas A&M, and Biola University succeeded in developing an effective treatment for antibiotic resistant bacteria. Using light-activated cellular ‘drills’ known as cell-penetrating self-assembling peptide nanomaterials (CSPNs), the team uncovered a way to get inanimate objects to wreak havoc on their defenceless targets.

These tiny organisms that the group has been trying to target, known as superbugs, are becoming a severe issue. Think of them as bacteria capable
of evolving to overcome our current antibiotic treatments to them, and their ability to do this only keeps improving.

In fact, these antimicrobial-resistant bugs are such a problem, that by
2050, they’re predicted to take 10 million lives a year — far surpassing the mortality rate of cancer. With the growing terror that lies with superbugs, new antibiotics aren’t something we should be relying on either:

Antibiotics destroy all life, meaning that during the process of treatment, your medicine could be killing you instead of the bacteria.

With our drug-development process taking decades and billions of dollars to complete, targeting the bugs before serious damage is almost zero. Even if we did find a cure, the victory wouldn’t be so sweet. While antibiotics are ineffective, they’re the only option we have, but CSPNs could change this landscape.

The Workings Of A Molecular Drill

When antibiotics pose a risk to patients’ lives by failing to target the source of disease, CSPNs provide a much safer option. When used, these drills self-assemble to either explode the cell from the inside or deliver targeted drugs for treatment.

From a high-level, the seemingly complex molecular drill consists of a series of three rings of carbon and amino acids strung together in a lab. The resulting compound is a long and flexible ‘paddle-motor’ that the scientists can manipulate to spin extraordinarily fast.

The group saw that the use of high-powered ultraviolet (UV) light could force the molecular motor to move. By finding the right wavelength, the scientists…

Aaryan Harshith

I write about things every week(ish).