CU researchers use light to fight bacteria

Posted at 8:22 PM, Jan 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-18 22:22:47-05

In the battle between humans and drug-resistant bacteria, we are losing.

“Because [infections] are gaining resistance to not just one, but multiple antibiotics. So that's really scary,” said Anushree Chatterjee, an assistant professor in the Development of Chemical and Biological Engineering at CU-Boulder.

For decades, doctors have used antibiotics to treat infections.

“We need antibiotics for treating bacterial infections. Any kind of disease whether it's cancer, patients with a compromised immune system, or for example, an HIV patient,” Chatterjee said.

But the so-called "superbugs" are getting smarter and stronger. And our limited antibiotics are oftentimes unable to defeat these deadly diseases.

“Many times things don't work and then you essentially quarantine the patient and kind of hope things will eventually work out, which is not a good situation,” she said.

Now CU researchers are literally shining light on the problem. They are using new light-activated nanoparticles known as “quantum dots” to successfully kill 92 percent of drug-resistant bacterial cells in lab-grown experiments.

Researchers hoping one day the quantum dots can be used to deliver therapies either topically, systemically, or as a disinfectant agent of different surfaces.

The best part? The activated nanoparticles only damage the bad bacteria and can be tailored to target specific infections just by adjusting their wavelengths.

“So they are bad for the bug, but they are fine for the host,” she said.