Smart nanotech fights fungal infections


Wednesday, 18 August, 2021

Smart nanotech fights fungal infections

Engineered nanoparticles developed at the University of South Australia (UniSA), in partnership with Monash University, have demonstrated a remarkable ability to battle one of the most invasive and notoriously resistant fungal infections — Candida albicans.

Candida albicans is an opportunistic pathogenic yeast that is extremely dangerous to people with compromised immune systems, particularly those in a hospital setting. Found on many surfaces, Candida albicans is notorious for its resilience to antifungal medicines. It is the most prevalent cause of fungal infections worldwide and can cause serious infections that can affect the blood, heart, brain, eyes, bones and other parts of the body.

The new nanobiotechnology — called micelles — comes at a time when many countries overrun by COVID-19 have witnessed a significant rise of dangerous fungal infections in hospitals. Micelles are made of lipid molecules that arrange themselves in a spherical form in aqueous solutions. They both attract and repel liquids, making them particularly well suited to drug delivery.

The senior investigator on the project, UniSA’s Professor Clive Prestidge, said the new polymer-based micelles could revolutionise current antifungal medicines.

“Managing and treating invasive fungal infections is particularly challenging because so many fungal biofilms are resistant to contemporary antifungal drugs,” Professor Prestidge explained.

“Fungal biofilms are surface-loving microbials that thrive on implanted devices such as catheters, prostheses and heart valves, making the presence of these devices a major risk factor for infection.

“In places like India — which has nearly 40,000 new COVID-19 infections every day — hospital resources are severely stretched, leaving healthcare workers not only battling COVID-19, but also dealing with complacency and fatigue.

“The unfortunate result is that infection control practices have deteriorated, putting patients on mechanical ventilation at greater risk of developing bacterial or fungal infections,” Professor Prestidge said.

“As fungal biofilms tend to seed recurrent infections, finding ways to break and beat the infection cycle is critical, especially now.

“Our research has identified and developed smart micelles that have the ability to break down single- and multi-species biofilms to significantly inhibit the growth of Candida albicans, one of the most virulent fungal species.

“We estimate that the new micelles could improve the efficacy of antifungal medicines by 100-fold, potentially saving the lives of millions of people worldwide.”

Co-investigator Dr Nicky Thomas said the new micelles present a breakthrough for treating invasive fungal infections.

“These micelles have a unique ability to solubilise and entrap a range of important antifungal drugs to significantly improve their performance and efficacy,” Dr Thomas said.

“This is the first time that polymer-based micelles have been created with intrinsic capabilities to prevent fungal biofilm formation.

“As our results already show that the new micelles will remove up to 70% of infection, this could be a real game changer for treating fungal diseases.”

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Kateryna_Kon

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