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Science & Technology

Phanorods (Gold Nanorods Coupled Phages) for Controlled Bacteriophage Therapy

By 11th February 2020No Comments

The following study was conducted by Scientists from Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Program in Biomolecular Science and Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara; Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, USA. Study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal as detailed below.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2020); 117(4): 1951-1961

Controlled Phage Therapy by Photothermal Ablation of Specific Bacterial Species Using Gold Nanorods Targeted by Chimeric Phages


New methods for detecting and killing antibiotic-resistant, Gram-negative bacteria are of prime interest for a wide variety of applications. While phages have long been considered as potential antibacterial agents, many concerns about phage therapy stem from the fact that phages are replicating, evolvable entities whose biology is poorly understood in most cases. These concerns could be addressed by destroying the phage immediately upon use. We accomplish this by conjugating phages to gold nanorods, whose excitation by near-infrared light causes localized heating that essentially cooks nearby bacteria. Thus, the phages deliver gold nanorods to the targeted bacteria, and the nanorods destroy both bacteria and phages simultaneously. This strategy transforms phages from an evolving biological entity into a controlled, drug-like reagent.


The use of bacteriophages (phages) for antibacterial therapy is under increasing consideration to treat antimicrobial-resistant infections. Phages have evolved multiple mechanisms to target their bacterial hosts, such as high-affinity, environmentally hardy receptor-binding proteins. However, traditional phage therapy suffers from multiple challenges stemming from the use of an exponentially replicating, evolving entity whose biology is not fully characterized (e.g., potential gene transduction). To address this problem, we conjugate the phages to gold nanorods, creating a reagent that can be destroyed upon use (termed “phanorods”). Chimeric phages were engineered to attach specifically to several Gram-negative organisms, including the human pathogens Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Vibrio cholerae, and the plant pathogen Xanthomonas campestris. The bioconjugated phanorods could selectively target and kill specific bacterial cells using photothermal ablation. Following excitation by near-infrared light, gold nanorods release energy through nonradiative decay pathways, locally generating heat that efficiently kills targeted bacterial cells. Specificity was highlighted in the context of a P. aeruginosa biofilm, in which phanorod irradiation killed bacterial cells while causing minimal damage to epithelial cells. Local temperature and viscosity measurements revealed highly localized and selective ablation of the bacteria. Irradiation of the phanorods also destroyed the phages, preventing replication and reducing potential risks of traditional phage therapy while enabling control over dosing. The phanorod strategy integrates the highly evolved targeting strategies of phages with the photothermal properties of gold nanorods, creating a well-controlled platform for systematic killing of bacterial cells.


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences



Peng, H., R. E. Borg, et al. (2020). “Controlled phage therapy by photothermal ablation of specific bacterial species using gold nanorods targeted by chimeric phages.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117(4): 1951-1961.