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"Toxic Sop" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers at UC San Diego have created nanosponges that soak up a dangerous pore-forming toxin produced by MRSA could serve as a safe and effective vaccine against this toxin.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: gloppy sponge sound) Sponge worthy

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have developed an experimental nanosponge vaccine to fight staph infections--notably the toxin produced by the antibiotic-resistant MRSA strain.

Nanosponges are tiny polymer cores wrapped in red blood cell membranes. Earlier work by the UC San Diego nanoengineers demonstrated that nanosponges can sop up a variety of toxins in the body--from bacterial proteins to snake venom. All 'pore-forming' toxins--ones that punch a hole in the wall of a cell, (Sound effect: large hit) causing it to leak and die. But when a toxin pokes a hole into a nanosponge, nothing happens--it just gets held there, like a dangerous but handcuffed prisoner.

When tested in staph-infected mice, these toxin-studded nanosponges stimulated the mice's immune system to produce neutralizing antibodies that fought off the otherwise lethal doses of the toxin. After three injections, the mice's survival rate was 100 percent.

The nanosponge approach targets the toxin, not the bacteria itself. So no antibiotics are involved, and there's no way for the bacteria to become resistant. Sponge full of toxins? Yeah, just check out my kitchen sink. (Sound effect: drain sound)

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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