Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews

Antimicrobial hydrogels: A new weapon in the arsenal against multidrug-resistant infections

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The rapid emergence of antibiotic resistance in pathogenic microbes is becoming an imminent global public health problem. Treatment with conventional antibiotics often leads to resistance development as the majority of these antibiotics act on intracellular targets, leaving the bacterial morphology intact. Thus, they are highly prone to develop resistance through mutation. Much effort has been made to develop macromolecular antimicrobial agents that are less susceptible to resistance as they function by microbial membrane disruption. Antimicrobial hydrogels constitute an important class of macromolecular antimicrobial agents, which have been shown to be effective in preventing and treating multidrug-resistant infections. Advances in synthetic chemistry have made it possible to tailor molecular structure and functionality to impart broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity as well as predictable mechanical and rheological properties. This has significantly broadened the scope of potential applications that range from medical device and implant coating, sterilization, wound dressing, to antimicrobial creams for the prevention and treatment of multidrug-resistant infections. In this review, advances in both chemically and physically cross-linked natural and synthetic hydrogels possessing intrinsic antimicrobial properties or loaded with antibiotics, antimicrobial polymers/peptides and metal nanoparticles are highlighted. Relationships between physicochemical properties and antimicrobial activity/selectivity, and possible antimicrobial mechanisms of the hydrogels are discussed. Approaches to mitigating toxicity of metal nanoparticles that are encapsulated in hydrogels are reviewed. In addition, challenges and future perspectives in the development of safe and effective antimicrobial hydrogel systems especially involving co-delivery of antimicrobial polymers/peptides and conventional antimicrobial agents for eventual clinical applications are presented.