Researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore, and California's IBM Research - Almaden (IBM) have discovered a new, potentially life-saving application for polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is widely used to make plastic bottles. They have converted PET into a non-toxic biocompatible material with superior fungal killing properties.

This new material proved particularly effective in destroying drug-resistant fungi and fungal biofilm, displaying great potential as an antifungal agent to prevent and treat topical fungus-induced diseases such as skin infections and keratitis.

This breakthrough technology can specifically target and eradicate drug-resistant and drug-sensitive fungi strains and fungal biofilms, without harming surrounding healthy cells. The researchers say that they hope to eventually apply this technology clinically to help the large number of patients worldwide who suffer from fungal infections.

Leveraging IBM's polymer synthesis and computational expertise, as well as IBN's nanomedicine and biomaterials research expertise, the researchers transformed PET, a common plastic material, 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.