One of the biggest risks with drugs such as antibiotics that chemically attack bacteria and other harmful organisms is that a tolerance or immunity can be developed over time. There are also side-effects that can debilitate patients treated chemically. IBM hopes to have solved both issues through nanotechnology by developing “ninja polymers” that attack deadly bacteria such as Staphylococcus physically rather than chemically.
When in the bloodstream or in contact with water, these polymers self-assemble into microscopic structures that target bacteria based upon their electrostatic charge, leaving other cells in the body untouched. They are biodegradable and in theory will be removed by the body once the job is finished.
Once inside or on a surface, they seek out the bacteria and attach to the membrane. After attaching, they breach the cells. With the integrity broken, the bacteria are expected to die. This video goes into more detail about how the process works with a heavy dose of plugging for the company itself.