Updated on 10 December 2013
A particular challenge facing researchers lies in fungi's metabolic similarity to mammalian cells. Existing antifungal agents are unable to distinguish between infected and healthy cells, and frequently end up attacking the latter. Hence, patients commonly report hemolysis and nephrotoxicity as treatment side effects.
Leveraging IBM's polymer synthesis and computational expertise, as well as IBN's nanomedicine and biomaterials research expertise, the researchers transformed PET, a common plastic material, into novel small molecule compounds that self-assemble in water into nanofibers. Via electrostatic interaction, the nanofibers are able to selectively target fungal cells and penetrate their membrane, killing them in the process.
According to Dr Yi Yan Yang, group leader, IBN, "The ability of our molecules to self-assemble into nanofibers is important because unlike discrete molecules, fibers increase the local concentration of cationic charges and compound mass. This facilitates the targeting of the fungal membrane and its subsequent lysis, enabling the fungi to be destroyed at low concentrations. The result is a highly efficient killing strategy that causes minimal damage or toxicity to surrounding healthy cells."