Scientists Safely Kill Superbugs, Tough Spores with Ultrashort-Pulse Laser

Researchers at St. Louis’s Washington University School of Medicine have found what could be a much-needed alternative to antibiotics, amid growing resistance, in the fight against bacterial superbugs and spores that are hard to kill.

E. Coli Bacterial Resistance

E. Coli Bacterial Resistance

The team report in a recent study that they were able to kill multidrug-resistant microbes with lasers emitting ultrashort pulses of light. They achieved this feat without causing any serious damage to human cells.

Read Also: Scientists Develop a Hydrogel Dressing That Can Treat Wound Infections Caused by Multidrug-Resistant Bacteria

“The ultrashort-pulse laser technology uniquely inactivates pathogens while preserving human proteins and cells,” said Shaw-Wei Tsen, study first author and a radiology instructor at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology.

The new research was published online in the Journal of Biophotonics.

Emergence of superbugs

Since their invention, antibiotics have helped greatly in fighting harmful bacteria. They are ranked among the most notable medical inventions of the 20th Century.

In recent times, however, the efficacy of these drugs has been dropping at an alarming rate. Bacteria are becoming more and more resistant to them.

Of course, scientists have continued to look for more effective antibiotics to fight resistance. But it appears like newer drugs only offer a brief reprieve before they become less effective. Hence, researchers have been looking for other methods for dealing with multidrug-resistant “superbugs.”

Hard-to-kill bacteria pose a great threat to human health. Research suggests that as many as 10 million lives may be lost to superbugs each year by 2050.

Read Also: Researchers Use Stem Cells’ Secretions to Treat Wounds Infected By Resistant Bacteria

Lasers to the rescue

For years, researchers in the current study have been looking at ultrashort-pulse lasers, in terms of their germicidal properties. They previously used these lasers to neutralize viruses and regular bacteria without hurting human cells.

The researchers turned their focus to drug-resistant bacteria and bacterial spores in their new study. Specifically, they applied the lasers on multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and ESBL-producing Escherichia coli (E. coli). Spores of the bacterium Bacillus cereus were also targeted.

MRSA and E. coli are quite different from each other, belonging to bacterial groups that are not related. Bacillus cereus, a culprit for food poisoning, can survive both boiling and cooking.

The lasers destroyed more than 99.9 percent of the target organisms, according to the researchers. They cut the number of organisms by more than 1,000 times.

Read Also: The Overuse of Poor Quality Hand Sanitizers May Lead to the Creation of Superbugs

Safely fighting pathogens

Judging by findings from this study, ultrashort-pulse lasers potentially offer a safer way of keeping biological products, including blood, free of pathogens.

Radiation, heat, and chemicals could be used to get rid of pathogens. However, they are also capable of harming the biological products or human cells that they are used on. This makes using lasers emitting ultrashort pulses of light all the more interesting.

These lasers kill hardy superbugs and bacterial spores through the vibration of their densely-packed protein structures. This causes their molecular bonds to break, ultimately causing normal protein function to stop.

It takes an even higher laser power than that needed to inactivate drug-resistant organisms to damage human cells.

Surgeons could use this method to rid a surgical wound of any infections before closing it, said Tsen. It may be used to treat even bloodstream infections at some point.

Read Also: 9 Percent of Women Have Super Resistant Bacteria in Their Guts

References

Inactivation of multidrug-resistant bacteria and bacterial spores and generation of high-potency bacterial vaccines using ultrashort pulsed lasers

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