Nanosponges could reduce severity of invasive bacterial infections

Paul Basilio, MDLinx | April 25, 2017

Researchers have shown that engineered nanosponges that are encapsulated in the membranes of red blood cells can decrease the severity of group A streptococcal infections. The findings were presented at the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics annual meeting during the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting in Chicago.

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Researchers created engineered nanosponges (right) from red blood cells. The nanosponges capture and inactivate toxins produced by bacteria, thus reducing damage to cells. Image courtesy of Tamara Escajadillo.

This treatment approach has the potential to be effective against severe or antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

Group A Streptococcus and other pathogens release pore-forming toxins that can lead to cellular dysfunction or cell death.

“Our engineered nanosponges capture and inactivate the toxins produced by bacteria, thus reducing damage to cells,” said Tamara Escajadillo, presenting author and graduate student researcher at the University of California in San Diego. “By demonstrating their effectiveness with live streptococcal infections, we provide compelling evidence for the potential functionality of the nanosponges in a clinical setting.”

The nanosponges were created by separating the membranes of human red blood cells from their internal contents and stabilizing the membranes with an engineered core that is designed to absorb the toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria.

Results of experiments with cultured cells showed that the nanosponges successfully acted as decoys in the presence of group A Streptococcus. The sponges prevented toxins from reaching white blood cells and skin cells, which are critical for defense against infection. In addition, the nanosponges reduced disease severity in a live mouse model of necrotizing fasciitis.

“The use of human cellular membranes as a decoy has the potential to block a large family of related microbial toxins and reduce the severity of invasive bacterial infections in vulnerable patients,” said Escajadillo.

 The team is currently testing the nanosponges with a variety of bacterial toxins and live infections. In the future, they aim to develop a version to counteract the inflammatory cascade that occurs with bacterial sepsis.

 To read more about the study, visit The FASEB Journal.

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