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Nanosponges Can Block Effects of Drug-Resistant Bacteria, Animal Venom

Update Date: Apr 16, 2013 10:29 AM EDT

Drug-resistant bacteria has become a looming threat for people in the public health sector. Because it is so difficult to find an appropriate treatment, the illnesses associated with the invaders often have a high mortality rate. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego have developed a nanosponge that may severely reduce the risk of such invaders, as well as others like snake venom.

According to MIT Technology Review, the researchers have created a nanomolecule that is cloaked in a red blood cell membrane. It targets toxins that kill red blood cells by poking their cell membranes. These toxins are released by many kinds of bacteria, including MRSA, which is released in hospitals and which kills a number of people each year, and certain animal toxins.

As The Los Angeles Times reports, the cloaking device allows the nanosponge to act as a decoy. The toxins try to attack the sponge, but instead are neutralized. Then the nanosponge is processed by the liver which, it appears, is unharmed by the sponge.

The nanosponges are much smaller than red blood cells, so one red blood cell membrane is able to cover 3,000 nanosponges. Because they are so small, they vastly outnumber red blood cells. That means that there is a much greater chance that the toxins will come into contact with the nanosponges and not the red blood cells.

So far, the treatment has only been tested in mice, but the results have been encouraging. In mice who received the injections of the nanosponges prior to being infected with the toxins, 89 percent survived. However, the survival rate was not as strong for the mice who received injections of nanosponges after infection; 44 percent survived.

Regardless, the technology is exciting. Many other scientists have attempted to develop nanosponges, but their efforts targeted one invader at a time. "Instead of creating specific treatments for individual toxins, we are developing a platform that can neutralize toxins caused by a wide range of pathogens, including MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria," study author Liangfang Zang said.

The study was published in the monthly journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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