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IBM develops hydrogel to fight drug-resistant 'superbugs' like MRSA

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IBM and IBN team up to save lives


IBM has helped to develop a new substance it says will aid in the fight against deadly infections. Superbugs like MRSA cause thousands of deaths per year thanks to their resistance to traditional antibiotics. MRSA, for example, can survive and multiply in "biofilms" — extra-cellular matrixes that can thrive on virtually any surface. Hospitals can kill MRSA using traditional disinfectants, but such ethanol- and bleach-based substances evaporate rapidly and aren't ideal for application to skin.

In collaboration with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (or IBN, confusingly), IBM has developed a new kind of hydrogel, a substance that can destroy bacteria while also providing long-lasting protection. The hydrogel is non-toxic and biodegradable, and is suitable for application to human skin as well as surfaces and medical equipment. To create the hydrogel, IBM used materials and techniques developed as part of its semi-conductor program. It created what it calls "ninja polymers," nanostructures that destroy infected cells before biodegrading.

The benefit of utilizing the polymers instead of traditional techniques is that there are no damaging side effects to healthy cells, and because they biodegrade there's no accumulation of material over time. IBM and IBN don't have a go-to-market strategy for their hydrogel —today's announcement reflects the first tentative steps along what is likely to be a long development path — but tech developed for the company's microchips and processors may one day help in the fight against superbugs.