In earlier chip development research, IBM researchers identified specific materials that, when chained together, produced an electrostatic charge that allows microscopic etching on a wafer to be done at a much smaller scale.
This newfound knowledge that characterization of materials could be manipulated at the atomic level to control their movement inspired the team to see what else they could do with these new kinds of polymer structures. They started with MRSA.
The outcome of that experiment was the creation of what are now playfully known as “ninja polymers” – sticky nanostructures that move quickly to target infected cells in the body, destroy the harmful content inside, and then disappear by biodegrading without causing damaging side effects or accumulating in the organs.
As a bonus, all of this occurs without damaging healthy cells in the area.
“The mechanism through which [these polymers] fight bacteria is very different from the way an antibiotic works,” explains Jim Hedrick, a polymer chemist in IBM Research. “They try to mimic what the immune system does: the polymer attaches to the bacteria’s membrane and then facilitates destabilization of the membrane. It falls apart, everything falls out and there’s little opportunity for it to develop resistance to these polymers.”