SINGAPORE, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- An international group of researchers have successfully converted polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which is widely used to make plastic bottles, into a material to kill even drug-resistant fungi, Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research said on Monday.
The researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, a unit of the Singapore agency, and California's IBM Research -- Almaden, said their new material proved particularly effective in destroying drug-resistant fungi and fungal biofilm.
It has great potential as an antifungal agent to prevent and treat topical fungus-induced diseases such as skin infections and keratitis, the agency said.
Jackie Ying, executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, said that the latest breakthrough allows scientists to specifically target and eradicate drug-resistant and drug-sensitive fungi strains and fungal biofilms, without harming surrounding healthy cells.
"We hope to eventually apply this technology clinically to help the large number of patients worldwide who suffer from fungal infections," he said.
Researchers said that a particular challenge in dealing with fungi is its metabolic similarity to mammalian cells. Existing antifungal agents are unable to distinguish between infected and healthy cells.
With the latest breakthrough, the researchers transformed PET into novel small molecule compounds that self-assemble in water into nanofibers. Via electrostatic interaction, the nanofibers are able to selectively target fungal cells and penetrate their membrane, killing them in the process.
Yi Yan Yang, leader of the group at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, said this leads to "a highly efficient killing strategy that causes minimal damage or toxicity to surrounding healthy cells."
The finding is reported in an issue of the Nature Communications.