By Erik Gomez, intern, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture

An idea to combine electrical currents, hydrogen peroxide, and medical bandaging has earned a WSU research team one of this year’s TechConnect Defense Innovation awards.

The award, announced at this year’s Defense Innovation Technology Acceleration Challenge summit, recognizes the team’s invention of a sophisticated electrochemical scaffold that could help curb the spread of deadly drug-resistant bacterial wound infections.

Led by Haluk Beyenal, Paul Hohenschuh Distinguished Professor in the Voilland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, the researchers used an e-scaffold, an electronic bandage made of conductive carbon fabric, to treat antibiotic-resistant bacterial biofilms.

Those biofilms are responsible for serious infections in people with chronic wounds, and could impair wound healing.

Bacterial resistance is a growing problem around the world. In the United States alone, at least 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths are attributable to antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

When doctors use antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection, many of the bacteria die. Bacteria that form a biofilm, however, are more difficult to kill, because antibiotics only partially penetrate this protective layer. Subpopulations of “persister” cells survive treatment and are able to grow and multiply, resulting in chronic infections.

WSU’s e-scaffold creates an electrical current that produces a low and constant concentration of hydrogen peroxide, an effective disinfectant, at the e-scaffold surface. The hydrogen peroxide disrupts the biofilm matrix and damages the bacteria cell walls and DNA, which allows better antibiotic penetration and efficacy against the bacteria.

“Our technology will contribute and improve human life,” said Beyenal. “It’s what motivates our work and research.”

The TechConnect Defense Innovation Award was given to the top 15 percent of innovations submitted to the DITAC program committee. Rankings are based on the potential positive impact the submitted technology will have for the warfighter and national security.

“This award has given us further confidence that our platform works,” said Abdelrhman Mohamed, a chemical engineering doctoral student working with Beyenal. “It validates that our technology fits an actual need.”