Using nanoparticles to combat deadly microbes

A team of researchers from Monash University has explored the use of nanoparticles for identifying the presence of a sometimes deadly microbe, and deliver effective, targeted treatments. The study was the outcome of an interdisciplinary collaboration between engineers, immunologists, and microbiologists, headed by Dr. Simon Corrie, Department of Chemical Engineering, Monash University, and Professor Ana Traven, Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), Monash University. The microbe named ‘Candida albicans,’ is commonly found, can be deadly when it colonizes on devices like catheters that are implanted in the human body. Even if they are commonly found in healthy people, this microbe can become a serious problem for people who have weak immunity or are severely ill. The study was recently published in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Applied Interfaces and Material.

The microbe takes the form of a biofilm when it colonizes the host’s body, for example, a catheter as a source of infection. It then enters the bloodstream and damages internal organs. Traven says that the rate of mortality in some people can be as high as 30 to 40 percent, even if they undergo treatment. When it colonizes, it becomes highly resistant to anti-fungal treatments. The researchers examined the effects of organosilica nanoparticles of various concentrations, sizes, and surface coatings to see if and how they affected the microbe as well as the immune cells in the blood. They witnessed the nanoparticles binding to fungal cells but had non-toxic effects. 

The team observed that the particles interact with the particles with neutrophils, i.e., human white blood cells, in a similar manner as they did with Candida albicans, having non-toxic effects. Professor Traven explains that early diagnosis of infection can improve the chances of successful treatment by using the existing anti-fungal drugs and preventing a full-blown systemic infection, although the current diagnostic methods are inadequate. A biosensor that can detect early stages of colonization would be extremely beneficial, adds Professor Traven. 

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