The Nanotech Antidote to Food Poisoning

By Aaron Rowe November 13, 2008

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The day after an awesome tailgate party, you feel deathly ill. Bacterial toxins are coursing through your veins, slipping into red blood cells, and tearing them to shreds from the inside. As the dead erythrocytes pile up, your kidneys start to fail.

Maybe the burgers were a bit too rare. Perhaps they contained the E. coli  strain O157:H7, which is infamous for causing widespread outbreaks.

If this happened tomorrow, your prognosis might not be good. But an experimental drug, developed by David Bundle and colleagues at the University of Alberta, could win the emergency room battle.

This week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Bundle described special polymers that can remove toxins from the bloodstream. Doctors could inject the nano-medicine into gravely ill patients to protect them from damage caused by bacteria such as hemolytic-uremic syndrome.

Each of the stringy saviors, called PolyBAIT, is decorated with carbohydrates that act like barbs. Those little hooks can snag bacterial poisons and then stick them to an immune system protein.

The protein and PolyBAIT disarm each toxin molecule, and then drag them out of the bloodstream. 

Bundle and others have been trying to deactivate parasite poisons for quite some time, but their earlier antidotes did not work well on animals.

Along with colleagues Pavel Kitov and Glen Armstrong, Bundle tested PolyBAIT on transgenic mice. When they gave a lethal dose of shiga toxin to their fuzzy research subjects, the new medication was able to save them.

At the end of their report, Bundle and his team speculated that their invention could be used alongside antibiotics to treat the worst E. Coli infections. Until it is on the market, you might want to order your burgers well done.




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