Phototherapy is Killing Superbugs

Professors Prashant Nagpal and Anushree Chatterjee, cofounders of Praan Biosciences Inc., have been studying light-activated quantum dots (QDs) and their use as a technique to kill drug-resistant superbugs. Quantum dots are semiconductor devices that are generally inactive in darkness, but with light come to life and have the potential to be the future of phototherapy treatment. With drug-resistant bacteria constantly evolving, we can rapidly alter the QDs to come up with new therapies.

The use of photoexcited QDs can provide a more accurate approach to attacking these superbugs. Nagpal explains, “by shrinking these [QD] semiconductors down to the nanoscale, we’re able to create highly-specific interactions within the cellular environment that only target the infection.” By modifying the wavelength of light applied, we can activate the QDs to kill specific infected cells as opposed to a section of cells. The killing of infection is controlled by the redox potentials of the photogenerated charge carriers, which selectively alter the cellular redox state. How does this all work? When the QDs are exposed to light, they become “excited” causing them to produce chemicals that are able to be reduced, or oxidized by reactive compounds within the bacteria. This reaction interferes with infected cells intercellular process, damages their growth, and kills them.

The professors tested photoexcited QD treatment on infected mammalian tissue. The bacteria examined in the study were ethicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, carbapenem-resistant E. coli, and extended-spectrum ß-lactamase-producing Klebsiella pneumoniae and Salmonella typhimurium. Researchers used phototherapy with light-activated QDs to see its effect on these bacteria-infected cells.

According to the study results published by Nature Materials in January 2016, 92% of bacterial cells were killed while managing to keep the cells intact. By utilizing a treatment with such specificity, the potential is there to reduce or even eliminate the possible side effects of past treatment methods. The QDs can even be manipulated to increase bacterial proliferation. Additional research into light-activated quantum dots can lead to further clinical phototherapy treatment of drug-resistant infections. This technique has huge implications for the medical community. If further research confirms these findings and the technique is perfected to be as accurate as possible, it could lead to many patients being cured of these so-called superbugs.

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