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nov 14, 2017
Innovation and technology

Brazilian scientists use nanotechnology to fight diseases

As infections grow more and more resistant, modern medicines need to become even smarter. Luckily, a group of Brazilian researchers are ensuring that pharmaceutical products do exactly that. While nanotechnology may conjure images of robotics and computing technology, scientists at the Center for Research in Material Energy (CNPEM) are putting it to use in biology.

The CNPEM team, based in Campinas, São Paulo, have managed to use nanotechnology to fight fungi and bacteria which have become resistant to traditional pharmaceutical medicines. The nano-drug is capable of selecting exactly what it targets, using silver and silica nanoparticles. The particles, which are one thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, are coated with a layer of antibiotic.

“We used the antibiotic as a kind of bait and thus we were able to take the nanoparticle to the bacteria with a large amount of the drug. The combined action of the drug with silver ions has been able to kill even resistant microorganisms,” said Matheus Borba Cardoso, a researcher at the National Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM).

But best of all, the nano-drug’s selectivity means that the body’s healthy cells remain unharmed. With a large dose of the active principle, the nano-drugs are highly effective – but leave no harmful effects on the human body. This puts them in a position to rival traditional antibiotics, which wipe out the body’s good bacteria, as well as the bad.

“Through molecular modelling, we have been able to determine which part of the ampicillin molecule interacts best with the bacterial membrane,” Barbosa explained. “We then leave all the molecules of the drug with this key part facing the outer side of the nanoparticle, increasing the possibilities of interaction with the pathogen.”

The potential for pharmaceutical firms to employ nanotechnology more widely, providing more targeted solutions to resilient diseases, is huge. CNPEM scientists tested the drug on E-coli, some aggressive bacteria which causes diarrhea and vomiting, and can cause serious health problems if left untreated. This research could be particularly valuable in African and South Asian countries, where E-coli and similar diseases kill thousands every year.

While further research needs to be completed, the nano-drug can become a commercial venture. While more testing must be carried out, to eliminate potential undesirable effects on the human body, CNPEM’s researchers believe the nano-drug could be easily customized and widely applicable.

The solution shows potential for tackling not only superbugs, but also viruses and tumors. Some scientists believe that it could even work to combat infections like HIV, therefore playing a part in the global fight against AIDS.