Ninjas vs Superbugs
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria - or, superbugs - are a growing threat. And MRSA is one of the worst. Learn more about Ninja Polymers in the infographic below, and share individual story sections by clicking on the embed icon in the upper right-hand corner of each module.
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Ninjas vs Superbugs
Adventures in NanomedicineWatch the video
- When Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, antibiotics were seen as a wonder drug. But as early as 1947 - just four years after the use of penicillin became common - we began to see bacteria developing a resistance to antibiotics.
- Rise of the Superbug As a result of our increased use of antibacterials and antibiotics, strains of bacteria have evolved. And gotten stronger. Today, we call them superbugs - bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotics and are very hard to treat. Superbugs, including CRE bacteria, Clostridium difficile and MRSA, are now one of the biggest health concerns of the 21st century. At least two million Americans suffer infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, and 23,000 die.
- MRSA: A Superbug Super Villain This is MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a pervasive superbug that causes infections ranging from mild skin infections to serious infections in the blood, lungs and other parts of the body. MRSA lurks in hospitals, subway cars, gyms - almost everywhere. And it spreads easily - by touching someone or something. Once the infection takes hold, MRSA can spread to almost any part of the body in less than 72 hours. MRSA is strong - resistant to nearly all antibiotics, including penicillin, amoxicillin, oxacillin and methicillin. It causes more deaths in the U.S. each year than HIV, pneumococcal, meningococcal and flu deaths combined.
- Introducing the Ninja Polymer: MRSA's Worst Enemy With the threat of superbugs looming, IBM is developing a better way to fight them - the Ninja Polymer. Made in the lab, these nanoscaled polymers target and kill bacteria in an entirely different way than antibiotics. Unlike our current antibiotics, Ninjas attack MRSA physically, instead of chemically. This makes it much harder for MRSA to develop a resistance. Ninja Polymers are nontoxic and biodegradable. Which means they can be naturally eliminated from the body without causing harmful side effects.
- How Ninja Polymers Attack MRSA IBM scientists designed Ninjas to have a negative charge, which is drawn like a magnet to the positively charged surface of MRSA. Once attracted to the bacteria, Ninjas pierce the cell's wall and rip through its outer membrane. The cell is destroyed, and its contents spill out harmlessly. After killing the bad bacteria, Ninja Polymers safely biodegrade and disappear without harming any healthy cells, earning the polymers their "Ninja" nickname.
- From Semiconductors to Superbug Killers How exactly did a technology company like IBM end up in nanomedicine? While exploring new ways to etch silicon wafers used in semiconductors, IBM researchers identified a new kind of polymer that produces an electrostatic charge when chained together. IBM researchers realized if they could manipulate materials at the atomic level to control their movement and the electrostatic charge in a silicon wafer, they could translate those results to nanomedicine. Ninja Polymers were born when IBM scientists partnered with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore to explore ways to use these charged polymer structures in the ongoing fight against MRSA.
- The Future of Ninja Polymers Ninja Polymers are still in the lab, but IBM's goal is to see them in drug delivery systems to fight not only MRSA and other superbugs, but also other harmful cells like cancer. The Ninja Polymers could also be used in everything from gels to special coatings to antibacterial wipes. One day, hospital equipment - from doorknobs to catheters to operating tables - could be coated with antibacterial polymers. In the future, Ninjas could be added to hygiene products like deodorant or toothpaste - a safer replacement for the antibacterial agents currently in these products.