The efficacy of antibiotics is not a new concern, but it keeps getting worse.

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today,” according to the World Health Organization. “A growing number of infections—such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, and salmonellosis—are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective.”

To get an idea of the magnitude of the healthcare crisis based on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), consider one statistic calculated by a large team of scientists known as the Antimicrobial Resistance Collaborators: “On the basis of our predictive statistical models, there were an estimated 4.95 million (3.62–6.57) deaths associated with bacterial AMR in 2019.”

A bioprocessor might solve some of these problems by combining natural products with nanotechnology.

Natural products have a long history in medicine

Battling microbials with natural products started long ago. “Natural products have served as potent therapeutics against pathogenic bacteria since the glorious age of antibiotics of the mid 20th century,” wrote Usama Ramadan Abdelmohsen, PhD, of the department of pharmacognosy at Minia University in Egypt, and colleagues.

In addition, nanotechnology could be used to treat some multi-drug resistant (MDR) organisms. “There are many metallic/salt nanoparticles that have efficient activity against MDR microbes,” noted Abdelmohsen’s team. Here, a nanoparticle attaches to a bacterial membrane, penetrates it, and disrupts various functions, leading to the death of the bacterium.

Abdelmohsen envisions a bioprocessor taking advantage of the power of natural products and nanoparticles in combination.

“Nano-formulation of natural products provided many benefits, such as targeted drug delivery, raised component solubility, diminished dose, enhanced absorption, diminished metabolism, and enhanced bioavailability,” Abdelmohsen’s team pointed out. “This can be carried out by encapsulation of natural products in a convenient carrier system such as nanoparticles, liposomes, and nano-emulsions, which can transform an inadequately available herbal drug into a successfully bioavailable drug candidate.”

Few new approaches to bioprocessing are easy, and combining natural products and nanoparticles could create some challenges with toxicity. Nonetheless, Abdelmohsen’s team mentioned that and suggested that any challenges with toxicity “can be overcome by the development of natural products nano-formulation.”

Given the global challenge with AMR, Abdelmohsen’s approach could be worth considering. It’s an intriguing example of merging nature and high-technology, and the outcome could address a growing and global healthcare crisis.