Fusing nanotechnology with cell biology to battle the ’superbug’

November 14th, 2007 - 10:20 am ICT by admin  

The researchers are trying to create methods of much faster and more accurate identification of strains resistant to the antibiotic methicillin, formally known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The university already has breakthrough detection technologies in its labs. Nanoelectronic biosensors at the its Center for Advanced Microelectronics and Biomolecular Research (CAMBR) recently have cut detection time for staph from the industry standard of up to three days down to three hours.

The researchers are now trying to tune the device to provide a complete toxin profile of the staphylococcus bacteria, which will quickly reveal the virulence of infections. For accomplishing this goal, CAMBR scientists have teamed-up with researchers from the university’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE).

“Our electronic detection capability is approximately 1,000 times more sensitive than the chemilumine technologies currently being used in clinical laboratories,” said Wusi Maki, principal investigator for CAMBR biomolecular research.

“Our plan is to work with Professor Greg Bohach and use the nanosensor CAMBR has developed to provide a toxin profile that will tell us very quickly, and very accurately, if we are looking at lethal or just mild staph,” she added.

There currently is no method available to quickly and accurately judge the virulence of the staphylococcus bacteria. The researchers hope that their efforts will ultimately produce means to detect even such MRSA bacteria as are currently hard to identify.

“We hope to identify particularly those toxins that are associated with the more virulent strains, including MRSA strains. There’s quite a bit known about the toxins, and we can - in a limited number of steps - screen and isolate staph for many different toxins at the same time,” said Prof. Bohach, principal investigator and director of the COBRE in the university’s Department of Microbiology, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (MMBB).

“So if you’re looking specifically for MRSA, you could look for those bacterial molecules that are associated with it, and through that unique association, identify it with precision,” he added.

Prof. Bohach further revealed the new project had been started with a view to integrating nanonmaterials research with cell biology and bioscience research. He said that his team was trying to harness nanowires and other nanomaterials to hijack the methods bacteria use for toxin delivery, and to deliver drug therapies specifically to infected cells.

Maki said that the technology was at the demonstration phase, and work was needed to bring it to a marketable system.

“All the building blocks are in place to produce a real system. With the right investment and focus, the technology could be made ready by the teams in Post Falls and Moscow in a few years,” she said.

“There is an immediate need for faster, more accurate staph detection. Quick identification in hospitals could save many lives, and millions of dollars,” she added. (ANI)

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