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Huge step forward in developing a treatment for bacterial infections

11 May 2016

Researchers from the UMCG have developed a method of packaging antimicrobials so that they can penetrate deep into a bacterial infection. This represents a huge step forward in developing alternatives to the method currently used for administering antimicrobials to treat bacterial infections. They have published an article on their progress in the scientific journal ACS Nano.

Until now, the majority of antimicrobials could only kill bacteria on the surface of an infection. The new packaging method allows antimicrobials to penetrate more deeply into the infection. The UMCG researchers are working with chemists from Nankai University in Tianjin, China.


More than sixty percent of all human infections are caused by biofilms. Biofilms consist of a layer of bacteria, which can form anywhere in the body and cause an infection. Biofilms are becoming less sensitive to antibiotics, partly because bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, and partly because they cannot penetrate deeply enough into the biofilm. As early as the 17th century, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek wrote about the inability of antimicrobials to penetrate biofilms, saying that ‘the vinegar I use to clean my teeth only kills the creatures on the surface, but does not reach the creatures living in the deeper layers’. Very little progress had been made in this field until now.

The researchers have now found a new way of packaging antimicrobials. The packaging, which is made of micelles, is able to find its own way into an infection, where it penetrates the biofilm. The bacteria open the packaging, sealing their own fate.


The research showed that micelles with the antimicrobial triclosan can penetrate biofilms consisting of Staphylococcus bacteria, enabling the Triclosan to kill the bacteria. Staphylococcus bacteria are responsible for countless infections. The researchers think that the method they have developed represents a huge step forward in treating bacterial infections, just when the effect of many existing methods and antibiotics is diminishing.

The researchers stress the fact that clinical use in humans is still a long way off. The next step is to test the method on animals.

Link to the publication in ACS Nano

Last modified:12 March 2020 9.43 p.m.
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