The discovery of antibiotics had made many health experts believe that the fight against infectious diseases was in its final stages. But recent decades have seen the evolution of resistance to antibiotics in pathogenic bacteria, purportedly due to misuse and overuse of antibiotics.

Now, in what is touted to be a significant breakthrough in the battle against antibiotic resistance, a research team from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) has synthesised a nanomaterial that mimics an enzyme and can disintegrate the cell membranes of a range of disease-causing bacteria.

The study, published in the journal ACS Applied Bio Materials, is a collaboration between researchers from the Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry (IPC) and the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology (MCB).

According to an IISc. release, the cell membranes of all organisms, including bacteria, have two layers of lipids containing phosphate molecules. Phospholipid is an essential component of the cell membrane, which the researchers decided to target with the help of nanomaterials that would break the bonds holding the membrane bilayer together. These nanomaterials are known as nanozymes.

According to the authors, as the nanozymes directly target the chemical integrity of the phospholipids to destroy the cell membrane, bacteria are less likely to be able to develop resistance against them.

“To develop this novel compound, the team synthesized a cerium oxide based nanozyme using what is known as a chemical co-precipitation method. In the next step, they carried out a reaction between cerium oxide and sodium polyacrylate in a basic solution to coat the nanoparticles with polymers. The polymer coating allows the nanozyme to disperse onto any surface or material and boosts its activity,” the release said.

The nanomaterial was tested in the lab on several potentially pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella Typhi, Shigella flexneri, Escherichia coli, Vibrio cholerae and Klebsiella pneumoniae, which cause typhoid, gastroenteritis, dysentery, cholera and pneumonia. The team found out that the nanozyme stopped their growth and subsequently inhibited the formation of biofilm – a densely packed community of bacteria, explained the release.

It also added that nanozyme was tested on urinary catheters, which are vulnerable to formation of pathogenic biofilm on their surfaces, leading to infection in patients. They found that bacterial attachment to the catheter surface significantly reduced with the use of the nanozyme.

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