Algae With a Secret Surprise Fought Off Deadly Pneumonia

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Fangyu Zhang and Zhengxing Li

The miracles of modern medicine strike again: Scientists have managed to generate a modified version of algae capable of carrying tiny, antibiotic-filled capsules into the bodies of mice to fight off deadly lung infections. The results help raise hopes that a similar therapy could one day cure critically ill human patients who suffer from the same type of bacterial infection.

The key to this work is in drug-delivering nanoparticles, which are tens to tens of thousands’ times smaller than the width of a single hair. Researchers at the University of California San Diego found that their nanoparticle-infused algae were able to fight off pneumonia infections in mice and allow them to survive for several weeks after treatment—in stark contrast to the untreated mice that died within three days. The team’s work was published Thursday in Nature Materials.

The effectiveness of antibiotics is limited, ironically, by the body’s own metabolism and immune system. When we take pills orally or receive antibiotics intravenously, these drugs embark on a journey to get where they need to go. They must cross numerous barriers and membranes, all while evading detection by patrolling cells. The UCSD researchers wanted to use nanoparticles to give antibiotics a shortcut to the infection site. Their size coupled with a coating to mimic a type of immune cell would spell safe passage for the drugs hidden within.

Read more at The Daily Beast.