Public Release: 

Nanosponges lessen severity of streptococcal infections

Decoy approach protects cells by capturing bacterial toxins; could help treat antibiotic-resistant infections

Experimental Biology 2017


IMAGE: Researchers created engineered nanosponges (right) from red blood cells (RBC). The nanosponges capture and inactivate toxins produced by bacteria, thus reducing damage to cells. view more

Credit: Tamara Escajadillo, University of California, San Diego

Chicago (April 24, 2017) - In a new study, researchers show that engineered nanosponges that are encapsulated in the membranes of red blood cells can reduce the severity of infections caused by group A Streptococcus, the bacteria responsible for strep throat and life-threatening infections such as necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating disease. The new treatment approach could be particularly useful for severe or antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

Tamara Escajadillo, graduate student researcher at the University of California in San Diego, will present the new study at the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics annual meeting during the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting, to be held April 22-26 in Chicago.

One reason group A Streptococcus and other invasive pathogens are so dangerous is they release pore-forming toxins that can poke holes in the membranes of cells within a person's body, leading to cellular dysfunction or cell death.

"Our engineered nanosponges capture and inactivate the toxins produced by bacteria, thus reducing damage to cells," said Escajadillo. "By demonstrating their effectiveness with live Streptococcal infections, we provide compelling evidence for the potential functionality of the nanosponges in a clinical setting."

The researchers created the nanosponges by separating the membranes of human red blood cells from their internal contents and stabilizing the membranes with an engineered core designed to absorb the toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria. Experiments with cultured cells showed that in the presence of group A Streptococcus, the nanosponges successfully acted as decoys, preventing toxins from reaching cells important for defense against infection, such as white blood cells and skin cells. The nanosponges also reduced disease severity in a live mouse model of necrotizing fasciitis.

"The use of human cellular membranes as a decoy has the potential to block a large family of related microbial toxins and reduce the severity of invasive bacterial infections in vulnerable patients," said Escajadillo.

The researchers are now testing their nanosponges with a variety of important bacterial toxins and live infections. They also want to develop a version that could counteract the dangerous inflammatory cascade that occurs in bacterial sepsis, a life-threatening condition that arises when the body is overwhelmed with an infection.


Tamara Escajadillo will present the research at 12:30-2:30 p.m. Monday, April 24, in Hall F, McCormick Place Convention Center (poster D215 829.2) (abstract). Contact the media team for more information or to obtain a free press pass to attend the meeting.

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About Experimental Biology 2017

Experimental Biology is an annual meeting comprised of more than 14,000 scientists and exhibitors from six host societies and multiple guest societies. With a mission to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping clinical advances, the meeting offers an unparalleled opportunity for exchange among scientists from across the United States and the world who represent dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research. #expbio

About the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET)

ASPET is a 5,100 member scientific society whose members conduct basic and clinical pharmacological research within the academic, industrial and government sectors. Our members discover and develop new medicines and therapeutic agents that fight existing and emerging diseases, as well as increase our knowledge regarding how therapeutics affects humans.

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