Heated nanoparticles offer weapon against drug-resistant bacterial infections

Cyrille Boyer

As scientists explore ways to reduce hospital-acquired infections and cut down on bacteria found on medical devices, researchers in Australia discovered a way to trick drug-resistant bacterial biofilms into shedding their protective layer by using nanotechnology and heat.

A team of scientists from the University of New South Wales injected iron oxide nanoparticles into the biofilms, and used an applied magnetic field to heat them. The researchers found that by raising the temperature, the biofilms were triggered to spread out, leaving them more vulnerable to treatment with antibiotics. The study was published in a recent issue of Nature's open-access journal Scientific Reports.

Biofilms are linked to about 80% of infections and often form on living tissues such as ears, wounds, the heart and cervix, or medical devices including prosthetic implants and contact lenses. Once bacteria have had enough time to form a biofilm, the infection can become untreatable and become a chronic problem.

The UNSW team's technology could "have broad applications across a range of clinical and industrial settings," Cyrille Boyer, associate professor at UNSW's School of Chemical Engineering, said in a statement. Once the bacteria are dispersed, they're "easier to deal with, creating the potential to remove recalcitrant, antimicrobial-tolerant biofilm infections," Boyer said.

UNSW researchers are not the only ones exploring ways to reduce drug-resistant bacterial infections. Scientists at China's Shanghai Institute of Ceramics found last year that gold nanoparticles could help prevent biofilms from forming on the surface of orthopedic implants. And researchers from the University of Southampton in the U.K. are working on an ultrasonic device that creates tiny bubbles to clean medical instruments, removing bacterial biofilms to decrease contamination.

- read the statement