University of Southampton researchers collaborated with researchers from the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) to develop a novel technology based on nanoparticles to kill the dangerous bacteria causing a deadly disease called melioidosis. This disease kills tens of thousands of people, particularly in Southeast Asia and Australia, every year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei causes the deadly disease and can spread through direct contact from the infected source. They are commonly found in contaminated water and soil, which is spread to humans and animals.

Unfortunately, existing antibiotics do not often kill them as the bacteria would try to hide and grow in white blood cells known as macrophages. These are specialized cells that are involved in the detection and destruction of bacteria and other harmful organisms.

 Nanomedicine: Scientists Use Nanoparticles to Kill Bacteria Hiding in Human Cells
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Epithelioid cells and macrophages in cell culture

Polymersomes Help Deliver Medical Applications in Nanomedicine

In the study, titled "Antibiotic-Loaded Polymersomes for Clearance of Intracellular Burkholderia thailandensis," published in ACS Publications, researchers showed how tiny capsules called polymerases are used in nanomedicine to kill the harmful bacteria causing melioidosis.

As a paper in Current Medicinal Chemistry reported, polymersomes are artificial amphiphilic vesicles made up of different chemical polymers currently investigated for delivering probes of imaging target tissues and cytotoxic drugs to tumor cells.

Innovations in nanomedicine have enabled scientists to develop nano-sized polymersomes as a mode of transporting medical applications, such as the recent study in killing the bacteria that causes melioidosis.

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Polymersomes Carry Bug-Killing Antibiotics to Bacteria Site

According to, researchers used polymersomes, which are about 1000th the diameter of human hair, to carry bug-killing antibiotics to where the bacteria is growing inside the macrophages. By adding polymersomes to macrophages, researchers were able to find an effective way to get a high concentration of antibiotics to the site of the infection.

The team said that this could eventually lead to patients being treated using polymersomes with antibiotics to save many lives each year. Study first author Eleanor Porges, a Ph.D. candidate at the university, said that their technology only releases antibiotics when they get to the site, leading to fewer antibiotics and even repurposing it when not considered effective.

Study co-author Dr. Nick Evans added that previous studies had involved complicated chemistry in engineering polymersomes to release the drug at the right time and place, relying on changes to or pH. But their study has shown that there is a less complicated and easier way to produce for clinical use.

"The results of our study were a real team effort, with people all pulling together from backgrounds in microbiology, imaging, and nanotechnology working between Dstl and Southampton. This is what made the data so compelling," the news outlet quoted Dr. Evans.

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