The future of fighting superbugs

Antibiotic resistance will cause 10 million deaths per year by 2050, overtaking cancer as one of the biggest health issues we’ve ever faced. With your support, RMIT is set to make antibiotic resistance a thing of the past.

With your support, RMIT is set to make antibiotic resistance a thing of the past.

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Antibiotic resistance - a global crisis

Discovered only 90 years ago, antibiotics have revolutionised medicine and transformed human health. Despite their life-saving properties, over prescription and misuse means they’re becoming less effective.

In recent years, the biggest threats are highly antibiotic resistant bacteria known as ‘superbugs’ and bacterial biofilm infections. Created when bacteria attach to a surface within the body and congregate, the biofilm essentially provides a protective ‘home’ for them to thrive in, rendering antibiotics powerless.

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A world-first solution

RMIT researchers have discovered a new way to treat bacterial infections. Led by Dr James Chapman (Chemistry Academic), Dr Vi Khanh Truong (Postdoctoral Fellow) and Dr Aaron Elbourne (Postdoctoral Fellow), the multidisciplinary team also includes RMIT School of Science PhD students like Sheeana Gangadoo. Together they have embarked on a global first, investigating the use of magnetic liquid metal nanoparticles as antibacterial agents.

“It’s a physical killing process rather than a chemical ‘antibiotic’ treatment for bacterial biofilm infections. The nanoparticles pierce and shred bacteria cells, killing the bugs and disrupting the protective house they reside in,” said Dr Chapman.

“Bacteria are unable to adapt or become resistant to a physical method of treatment, which is a significant advantage over medication,” said Dr Elbourne.

Future treatments

The research team are excited about the ways in which liquid metal nanoparticles could be used to treat infection. With the high rates of infection post hip and knee replacements, the liquid metal nanoparticles could be used as a spray coating on implants making them inherently antibacterial once magnetised. There is also potential for them to be developed into an injectable treatment used at the site of infection.

The team already has plans to expand this research beyond antibacterial treatment:

  • the nanoparticles could be used to treat fungal infections — the next superbugs
  • they could also be used to break through cholesteral plaques and battle heart problems
  • liquid metal nanoparticles could be injected into cancer cells stopping tumours in their tracks.


We need your support

Thanks to the generous support of the CASS ‘Contributing to Australian Scholarship and Science’ Foundation, the first year of this ground-breaking work is resulting in exciting discoveries. Their faith in this project has made world-first research happen and we are exceptionally grateful for their support.

Now we need your help to progress this research to the next stage.

Dr James Chapman
The support of RMIT donors will allow this work to transition from laboratory scale experiments to a viable, market-ready technology. We can also give the PhD students (next-generation scientists) we’re training incredible opportunities to develop as emerging experts in the field of antibacterial research. Growing this team is integral to continuing this work.

- Dr Elbourne, researcher in the School of Science

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Get in touch

Our researchers are seeking donations for this research to continue. If you would like to discuss how you can contribute, please get in touch
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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.