New technique to expose pathogen-causing bacteria in mouth
SUMMARY: A new approach that color-codes bacteria in the oral cavity could lead to new methods of treating bacterial infections.
Posted: May 21, 2014
The same bad bacteria that inflames the gums and erodes your teeth may soon be as easy to spot as pointing your cell phone toward your mouth.
Scientists at the University of Nottingham and GSK Consumer Healthcare have created a technique that could pinpoint the potential source of an infection by reconfiguring the normal process of pathogens, or the biological agents that cause disease and infection. The technique, researchers hope, could revolutionize the treatment of bacterial growths. The breakthrough was published in the journal Nature Materials.
Professor Cameron Alexander, study author and head of the Division of Drug Delivery and Tissue Engineering in the University's School of Pharmacy, engineered fluorescent markers to tag - or essentially color-code - cells, much like the way a black light illuminates stains on clothes. By doing this, one can locate the pathogens to help eradicate them. Researchers have even been able to detect disease-causing agents using a simple mobile phone camera.
"The neat thing about this is that the functionality of the polymers grown on the surface of the bacteria is programmed by the cells so that they can recognize their own 'kind,'" Alexander said in a news release. "We used fluorescent labels to light up the polymers and were able to capture this labeling using a mobile phone camera, so in principle it could be possible to use these materials as point-of-care diagnostics for pathogenic bacteria."
Basically, Alexander and his colleagues turned the bacteria against itself. They "hijacked" the metabolic machinery that bacteria leverage to control their environment, and instead used it to grow polymers that bind to the specific bacteria that produce them.
"The initial focus of the research was to explore ways to use synthetic polymers to selectively target and bind the bacteria that cause dental cavities and periodontal diseases in order to facilitate their removal from the oral cavity," Dr. David Churchley, principal scientist at GSK Consumer Healthcare, said in a news release. "As we continued our work, we saw that our research had broader implications and potential for a wider range of uses."
This could offer an easier way to detect pathogenic bacteria outside of a clinical setting, and could prove particularly important for the developing world where access to high-technique laboratory techniques is limited.
Everything from gingivitis (early stage gum disease) to periodontitis (advanced stage gum disease) to cavities fall under the umbrella term of "infection." When food debris and plaque linger in the pockets between the gums and teeth, they slowly begin irritating the gum tissue and grinding down the outer layer of the teeth, leading to swollen gums and tooth decay. As a result, bad breath may develop.
The new approach, named "bacterial-instructed synthesis," can stop the bacteria in its tracks. The ingredients used to form the polymers are easy to access and inexpensive.