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IBM says it has tool to kill deadly drug-resistant superbugs

Working with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Big Blue has come up with a "hydrogel" that can beat back the bacteria that cause many deadly infections.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
2 min read
A new antimicrobial hydrogel created by IBM Research and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology is meant to attack and kill drug-resistant superbugs like MRSA. This is a look at MRSA 'biofilm' before and after being hit with the hydrogel. IBM Research

Hospital-acquired infections have become a major killer in the United States, mainly because the drug-resistant "superbugs" that cause them have proven nearly impossible to stop.

But now IBM and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology say they have come up with what they're calling an antimicrobial hydrogel that can successfully fight the superbugs that are behind killers like MRSA.

In an announcement today, IBM Research and its partner on the project said that their antimicrobial hydrogel was designed to cut through diseased biofilms and almost instantly kill off drug-resistant bacteria. The collaborators on the project said that the the synthetic drug is meant for combating the growing infection problems plaguing American hospitals, because it is non-toxic, biocompatible, and biodegradable.

Normally, IBM said in its announcement, antimicrobials are used in standard household cleaners like alcohol and bleach. But those substances haven't proved effective in fighting deadly skin infections like MRSA because antibiotics are becoming less effective and standard disinfectants aren't meant for biological situations.

But the new hydrogel was created to be used in creams and other therapeutics that are meant for healing. The hydrogel can be applied to contaminated surfaces, and its positive charge instantly attracts the microbial membranes' negative charge. The bacteria is then meant to be killed by what IBM termed membrane disruption, a step that staves off any kind of resistance to the hydrogel.

Although it's not yet clear how this advancement will make its way into actual hospital and other relevant settings, research like this is meant to jump-start the commercial development of actual drugs and other therapies.