Silver boosts treatment for brain-eating bug

Silver nano. Photo from EU Science Hub.

It is widely known that precious metals have several properties but dealing with Halloweenie bugs is a new one.

Turns out that silver is being used now to destroy a brain-eating amoeba called Naegleria fowleri.

In a paper published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience, researchers from Malaysia’s Sunway University explain how they developed silver nanoparticles coated with anti-seizure drugs that can kill the deadly Naegleria fowleri.

Most infections with the amoebae result from inhaling warm, dirty water in ponds, hot springs or unchlorinated swimming pools. Another species, Acanthamoeba castellanii, can cause blindness by entering the eyes through dirty contact lenses.

Silver nanoparticles coated with anti-seizure drugs kill brain-eating amoebae, like those illustrated here, while sparing human cells in vitro. Credit: Kateryna Kon/

Common treatments for such infections include antimicrobial drugs, but they often cause severe side effects because of the high doses required for them to enter the brain. So in order to increase the effectiveness of the drugs diazepam, phenobarbitone and phenytoin, the research group led by Ayaz Anwar decided to chemically attach silver nanoparticles to them because they knew the particles improve the delivery of some drugs and also have their own antimicrobial effects.

They found that each of the three drugs alone could kill N. fowleri and A. castellanii, but they worked much better when bound to the metal. In their paper, they explain that the drug-nanoparticle combos protected human cells from the microbes, increasing their survival rate compared with untreated infected human cells.

The scientists believe that these repurposed drugs, aided by the nanoparticles, might kill amoebae by binding to protein receptors or ion channels on the single-celled organism’s membrane.