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 were able to get it to rotate 2–3 million times per second, which allowed it to penetrate the boundaries of any cell:
On top of their capabilities, these molecular machines can stow away drugs in their bodies and release them at their destination. Equipped with amino acids known as peptide addends, the drills bound to specific cells.
By burrowing into the walls of bacteria, the nano drills leave holes large enough for antibiotics to enter. When testing this method on the K. pneumonia bacteria, they combined their nano-drill with the drug meropenem.
Using CSPNs alone, the group killed 17% of the bacteria, but with the addition of meropenem to back it up, the number rose to 65%. After
several rounds of finding the perfect balance between nano-machines and
According to Rice University researcher James Tour, the targeting ability of CPSNs could have potential in almost every disease:
“Now we can get it through the cell wall, this can breathe new life into ineffective antibiotics by using them in combination with the molecular drills.”
To test this ability, the group designed a CSPN to target prostate cancer. With UV light, the drill attached to cancerous cells alone and destroyed each one. In the study, peptides were also customized to achieve increased speed and flexibility. Moving forward, this could mean effective treatment tailored to the needs of every patient.
The Future Of Drug-Delivery?
With developments and clinical trials taking place with CSPNs, treating diseases with a tiny drill could become a practical option. In fact, human trials are already in progress for superbugs like K. pneumonia, to all types of cancer. So far, the results are looking conclusive and promising. If no significant setbacks arise, then CSPNs could replace antibiotics in as short as the next couple of years.
Of course, the results from one trial aren’t enough to convince medical authorities about safety. Several rigorous tests for each treatment would have to get conducted, and that could act as a barrier to rapid development. One thing’s certain, though — the use of this one method could lead to the treatment of all diseases.
With provisional patents lined up, the group says that the future looks bright, and development is going to ramp up soon. With the current outlook, CSPNs could open up a whole new world of innovation, employment, and medical facilities.
Diseased cells can fight off antibiotics, but they can’t do the same when they force themselves inside along with CSPNs. That’s what makes the system so unique — it works for any condition that can already be (ineffectively) treated with antibiotics.
Every condition needs a drug to cure it, and antibiotics aren’t the way to go. By using CSPNs that stop diseased cells in their tracks while leaving healthy cells alone, this study might lead the future of medicine.
A future where you might go to the doctor — and be prescribed for a drill?
Think about that…
Thank you for reading.
This is Aaryan, and I’m a 14-year-old that’s interested in everything to do with medical sciences, as well as philosophy. Hopefully you enjoyed reading about nano-drills! Catch up with my articles here, or feel free to clap for this one — it would mean a lot! 👏