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Engineers may have found a new way to boost the effectiveness of antibiotics to combat the spread of resistant superbugs.

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder found that quantum dots, a series of light-activated nanoparticles, can interfere with important processes performed by bacteria making them more susceptible to the original antibiotic.

The team introduced these nano-engineered quantum dots to certain clinical isolate infections where they can be deployed selectively and activated or de-activated using specific wavelengths of light.

The dots differ from previous antibiotic treatments because they are able to work selectively on an intracellular level. They are small enough to slip inside and help clear the infection from within.

"We've developed a one-two knockout punch," said co-lead study author and assistant professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CHBE) Prashant Nagpal, in a statement. "The bacteria's natural fight reaction [to the dots] actually leaves it more vulnerable."

A chemical called superoxide is released by these molecules, which ends up interfering with the bacterium’s metabolic and cellular processes reducing the effective antibiotic resistance of the isolate infections by a factor of 1,000 without inducing adverse side effects.

"We are thinking more like the bug," said another co-lead author of the study Anushree Chatterjee, an assistant professor in CHBE, in a statement. "This is a novel strategy that plays against the infection's normal strength and catalyzes the antibiotic instead."

Ultimately, the researchers feel the biggest advantage of this quantum dot technology is that it gives clinicians a flexible multipronged approach to fighting infections that are already straining the limits of current treatments.

Findings from this research were published in the journal Science Advances.

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