Nanoparticles may be tiny, but they are the next big thing for fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Written by: Madeline Barron

Editors: Christian Greenhill, Kristen Loesel, and Peijin Han

We are currently at war with antibiotic-resistant bacteria—and it’s not looking good. In 2019, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the United States each year, resulting in 35,000 deaths and billions of dollars in healthcare costs. This is over 28% higher than the approximated number of infections and deaths in 2013. Yet, despite the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections, antibiotics remain our primary weapon for combatting bacterial pathogens; if they stop working, infections that were once easily controlled could become untreatable. Thus, there is a critical need to look beyond our arsenal of antibiotics for new methods to treat bacterial infections.

Enter: Nanoparticles.

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Bacterial outer membrane vesicles: Little membrane blebs with big vaccine potential

Author: Madeline Barron

Editors: Genesis Rodriguez, Alyse Krausz, and Emily Glass

Bacteria are bubbly organisms—literally. As they go about the business of living, many bacteria pinch off little blebs of their outer membrane to form outer membrane vesicles, or OMVs. OMVs are tiny orbs (about 4,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair) that pack a big functional punch. They contain proteins that scavenge nutrients for bacteria to eat, serve as “decoys” that bind up antibiotics and protect bacteria from certain death, and deliver compounds to host cells that cause disease and trigger an immune response. To this end, scientists have sought to exploit the immune-stimulating power of OMVs to generate vaccines that help protect people from bacterial infections. Thus, OMVs may be small, but they could be a mighty weapon to help us keep bacterial pathogens at bay.

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