Many poorer families simply ignore their teeth

Health Scan: Nanomedicine, bioengineering and IBM researchers have teamed together to produce a breakthrough.

By
May 1, 2011 03:51
4 minute read.
Teeth

Teeth. (photo credit: Teeth)

 
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Too many Israelis of lower income complain about the cost of copayments for medical care – but taking care of one’s teeth and mouth has become is a major expenditure for Israeli households, falling disproportionately harder on the shoulders of the poor with children, as well as the elderly.

This problem was the focus of a study by Prof. Dov Chernichovsky, chairman of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies health policy program and a senior Ben- Gurion University health economist, who wrote a new report with Dr. Guy Navon of the Bank of Israel and a policy fellow at the Jerusalem Center. Their policy paper was based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

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They found that with no public dental insurance, and with even private insurance options limited for the average resident, spending on dental care is often neglected, even though dental health has major implications on general health.

Chernichovsky and Navon said access to dental care has remained a matter of ability to pay, often putting even basic dental treatments, including preventive care, beyond the reach of families with limited means. It is well known that dental health here is inferior to that in other developed countries.

Spending by the richest households is less than 25 percent greater than that of the poorest, even though the former’s income is about five times as high. This strongly suggests that levels of dental expenditures are made according to need, they concluded. This means poor families often simply do without.

MINIMIZING MRSA INFECTIONS

Nanomedicine, bioengineering and IBM researchers have teamed together to produce a breakthrough in treating antibiotic-resistant bacteria and infectious diseases like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which are a risk in hospitals, gyms, schools and other public places where people are in close contact. They developed new polymers to physically detect and destroy these pathogens.

Discovered by applying principles used in IBM’s advanced semiconductor development, these nanostructures are physically attracted to infected cells, allowing them to selectively eradicate difficult-to-treat bacteria without destroying the healthy cells around them. These agents also prevent bacteria from developing drug resistance by actually breaking through the bacterial cell wall – a fundamentally different mode of attack compared to more traditional antibiotics.

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MRSA is just one type of dangerous bacteria commonly found on the skin, In 2005, MRSA was responsible for nearly 95,000 serious infections, and associated with almost 19,000 hospital-related deaths in the US alone. The challenge with infections like MRSA is twofold. First, drug resistance occurs because microorganisms evolve to resist antibiotics because current treatments leave their cell wall and membrane largely undamaged. Second, the high doses of antibiotics needed to kill such an infection indiscriminately destroy healthy red blood cells as well.

“The number of bacteria in the palm of a hand outnumbers the entire human population,” said IBM organic materials scientist Dr. James Hedrick, whose team published their paper in Nature Chemistry.

“With this discovery we’ve been able to leverage decades of materials development traditionally used for semiconductor technologies to create an entirely new delivery mechanism that could make drugs more specific and effective.”

If commercially manufactured, these biodegradable nanostructures could be injected or applied topically to the skin, treating skin infections through consumer products such as deodorant, soap, hand sanitizers, table wipes and preservatives, as well as helping heal wounds, tuberculosis and lung infections.

“Using our novel nanostructures, we can offer a viable therapeutic solution for the treatment of MRSA and other infectious diseases. This exciting discovery effectively integrates our capabilities in biomedical sciences and materials research to address key issues in conventional drug delivery,” said Dr. Yiyan Yang, group leader of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore.

The body’s immune system is designed to protect us from harmful substances, inside and out. For several reasons, many of today’s conventional antibiotics are either rejected by the body or have a limited success rate in treating drug-resistant bacteria. The antimicrobial agents developed by IBM researchers are specifically designed to target an infected area to allow for a systemic delivery of the drug. Once these polymers come into contact with water in or on the body, they self assemble into a new polymer structure that is designed to target bacteria membranes based on electrostatic interaction and break through their cell membranes and walls. The physical nature of this action prevents bacteria from developing resistance.

The electric charge naturally found in cells is important because the new polymer structures are attracted only to infected areas while preserving the healthy red blood cells the body needs to transport oxygen and combat bacteria. Unlike most antimicrobial materials, this new polymer structure is biodegradable, which enhances its potential application because it is naturally eliminated from the body rather than accumulating in organs.

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