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Fighting Fungal Infections Using Smart Nanotech

They’re roughly the same size as a coronavirus particle, and 1000 times smaller than a human hair, yet newly engineered nanoparticles developed by scientists at the University of South Australia, are punching well above their weight when it comes to treating drug-resistant fungal infections.

Created in partnership with Monash University, the new nanobiotechnology (called ‘micelles’), has a remarkable ability to battle one of the most invasive and notoriously resistant fungal infections ­– Candida albicans. It’s a timely finding, especially given the significant rise of dangerous fungal infections in hospitals with countries overrun by COVID-19.

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 anti-fungal 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.

UniSA’s Professor Clive Prestidge, a Senior investigator, stated that the new polymer-based nanobiotechnology (micelles) could revolutionise current anti-fungal medicines. He noted that managing and treating invasive fungal infections is particularly challenging because so many fungal biofilms are resistant to contemporary antifungal drugs.

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

The UniSA’s 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. They estimate that the new micelles could improve the efficacy of anti-fungal medicines by 100-fold, potentially saving the lives of millions of people worldwide.

Dr Nicky Thomas, co-investigator, says the new micelles present a breakthrough for treating invasive fungal infections. These micelles have a unique ability to solubilize and entrap a range of important antifungal drugs to significantly improve their performance and efficacy.

This is the first time that polymer-based micelles have been created with intrinsic capabilities to prevent fungal biofilm formation. As the results already show that the new micelles will remove up to 70 per cent of infection, this could be a real game-changer for treating fungal diseases.

Nanobiotechnology is a hybrid of nanotechnology and biotechnology in which traditional microtechnology is combined with a molecular biological approach. It has the potential to progress medical science and, as a result, improve healthcare practices around the world.

Nanobiotechnology integrates nanotechnology with biotechnology, including nanostructures’ unique physicochemical and biological features, as well as their applications in domains such as health and agriculture. One of the most promising technologies of the twenty-first century is nanobiotechnology. It is crucial in the development and implementation of numerous valuable tools for the study of life. Disease diagnostics, target-specific drug administration, and molecular imaging are some of the applications in medicine. It can also be used in agriculture and food.

Recent research shows that the global market for nanobiotechnology should grow from US$38.5 billion in 2021 to US$68.4 billion by 2026, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.2% for the period of 2021-2026.

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