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Biofilm Mitigation by Ultrasound-Enhanced Targeted Lipisome Treatment University of Vermont/NASA Johnson Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, Human Exploration & Operations Mission Directorate

Water is an essential of life. Keeping it flowing for space-faring humans is the basis of the EPSCoR research of physicist, Dr. Junru Wu at the University of Vermont. Most of us have probably never heard of, let alone become familiar with the term “biofilm,” yet, each of us has seen, felt, or perhaps suffered a bad fall due to a biofilm. The plaque on your teeth is one type; another can clog drains. And remember that time you walked joyfully along that beautiful little, gurgling stream, only to tumble into the drink after losing your footing? Blame the biofilm built up on that flat, slippery rock. Biofilms are formed by glue-like excretions from bacteria and other microscopic creatures, such as fungi and algae, who live in watery environments. That would include vital life-support systems aboard spacecraft carrying humans. In fact, biofilms have temporarily shut down water systems on both Mir and the International Space Station. So keeping the water running – without using too much energy – has been a

goal of NASA’s. Taking a cue from medicine, Prof. Wu and his team at UVM have discovered a method that seems to do just that. For a physical model in their Burlington, Vermont laboratory, Wu’s research team immersed a biofilm (alginate hydrogel) in a suspension holding tiny nano-particles. These nano-particles penetrate the porous biofilm to break it up. Professor Wu and his staff then introduced a low-pulse ultrasound into the mix. The results were significant; the nano-particles were now three times more likely to penetrate the biofilm and not merely get trapped at its outer surface. The intensity and other parameters of the ultrasound used in the experiment were within the same range as that used by your doctor to make a diagnosis. Writes Wu, “Therefore the technique is an energy effective (consuming less electric energy), which fulfills the low energy consumption requirement of the NASA long-term exploration project.”

Left column: Liposomes carrying fluorescent material are delivered into a biofilm models using very low intensity (0.14 W/cm2) diagnostic ultrasound. Right column: No liposomes carrying fluorescent material are delivered into a biofilm model without application of ultrasound.

Dr. Junru Wu, Science PI, University of Vermont



NASA EPSCoR Stimuli 2014 -15

Dr. Duane Pierson, PhD, NASA Technical Monitor Johnson Space Center, HEOMD

EPSCoR Stimuli 2014-15  

NASA Office of Education’s Aerospace Research & Career Development (ARCD) is pleased to release NASA EPSCoR Stimuli, a collection of univers...

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