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Researchers Use Recycled Plastics to Fight Fungi

Update Date: Dec 09, 2013 10:30 AM EST

A research team from IBM and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology announced that they have successfully used common plastic materials to fight against fungal infections. The researchers reported that these plastic materials, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) could be converted into non-toxic and biocompatible products created with the sole purpose of targeting and attacking fungi.

For this study, the scientists aim to find a new method of combatting fungal infections. These infections affect over one billion people per year and range from mild to severe. The researchers converted PET, which is used in the production of plastic bottles, using an organic catalytic process. This process changes PET into completely new molecules that can then be converted into antifungal agents. The molecules then go through a hydrogen-bonding process in which they attach to one another and form the antifungal agents known as nanofibers.

The nanofibers are the key in attacking fungal infection. These nanofibers have a positive charge that can be used to target the negatively charged membranes of the fungi. By attaching to these membranes, the nanofibers can effectively damage the fungal cell membrane walls and stop the fungi from resistance development.

"The ability of these molecules to self-assemble into nanofibers is important because unlike discrete molecules, fibers increase the local concentration of cationic charges and compound mass. This facilitates the targeting of the fungal membrane and its subsequent lysis, enabling the fungi to be destroyed at low concentrations," researcher Dr. Yi Yan Yang from IBN said according to the Wall Street Journal.

In other studies done by IBN in Singapore, researchers found that the nanofibers were effective in killing 99.9 percent of C. albicans, which is a fungal infection found commonly in the blood stream. The studies revealed that one hour of incubation was all that took to kill the fungi. After 11 treatments, there was also no resistance development by the fungi.

"As computational predictive methodologies continue to advance, we can begin to establish ground rules for self assembly to design complex therapeutics to fight infections as well as the effective encapsulation, transport and delivery of a wide variety of cargos to their targeted diseased sites," said Dr. James Hedrick, Advanced Organic Materials Scientist, IBM Research added.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

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