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ODU's Bioelectrics Center and Vision Lab Get $1.6 million in DOD Funding for Casualty Care

Two research and development arms of Old Dominion University, the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics and the Computational Intelligence and Machine Vision Laboratory, will receive $1.6 million under the Department of Defense's 2009 fiscal year budget appropriation to study new ways for the U.S. military to minimize casualties and deal with them more successfully when they do occur.

The money from the DOD appropriation measure, which was signed by President Bush on Sept. 30, will allow ODU researchers to expand their work in areas such as 1) the treatment of wounds using ultrashort electric pulses, 2) bioelectric disinfectant and decontamination methods and 3) computer analysis of facial features and body movements of people in a crowd to identify known terrorists or others who may intend to perform terrorist acts.

John R. Broderick, the ODU acting president, said, "This funding is further evidence that our faculty members are conducting groundbreaking research and with remarkable results." He said the university is grateful for the assistance it received from 3rd District Rep. Robert "Bobby" Scott and Virginia's two U.S. senators, John Warner and James Webb, in securing the appropriation titled "Bioelectrics Research for Casualty Care and Management."

"We are very excited about this appropriation. This is a great stride forward for us," said Karl Schoenbach, ODU's Batten Endowed Chair of Bioelectric Engineering, who founded the Reidy Center five years ago. Schoenbach is known internationally as one of the fathers of bioelectrics, which involves exploring and utilizing the effects of ultrashort electrical pulses and of cold plasma on biological cells and tissue. One of the medical applications in which both electric pulses and plasma can be used involves wound healing.

Richard Heller, the specialist in electrogenetherapy who moved from the University of South Florida College of Medicine to become director of the Reidy Center this summer, and his wife, Loree, who is also now a researcher at the center, have contributed their expertise to a comprehensive wound-healing program.

"We are pleased to have this opportunity to further develop this new technology," Heller said of the DOD funding. "We have established a multidisciplinary effort that will be focused on three approaches that complement each other to reduce wound-related infections and accelerate wound healing."

The three approaches that will be part of this study for the DOD include use of a device that emits cold plasma to disinfect wounds and reduce wound-related infections. The second area involves the use of nanosecond pulsed electric fields that can activate the platelets in blood. These activated platelets have been demonstrated to have antibacterial and analgesic properties that accelerate wound healing.

The final area focuses on a research specialty of the Hellers-delivering plasmid DNA encoding angiogenic factors by means of in vivo electroporation, which can significantly enhance wound healing as well as enhance the viability of a large flap or skin graft. This electrogenetherapy uses the ultrashort pulses to create entry ways for genetic material into cells.

Heller said the three approaches will be tested as single agents or as combinations to find the best treatment approach to reduce or eliminate infection and to accelerate wound healing. "The appropriate treatment of wounds and the reduction or elimination of infections related to wounds is of critical importance to our troops," he added. "It is important to have the capability to provide fast and efficient care for our troops in case of casualties. Full development of these approaches will fill this need. This funding will give us the ability to further advance these programs and accelerate their development to get them closer to being deployment ready."

Mohammad Karim, the ODU vice president for research, said the DOD funding will foster more collaboration between the Reidy Center and the Vision Lab. The Reidy Center is located in the Norfolk Department of Public Health building near Brambleton and Colley avenues, several miles from the ODU campus, but will move next year to the Innovation Research Park @ ODU, where the Vision Lab already has offices and laboratories.

The director and leading researcher of the Vision Lab, Vijayan Asari, said his facility's expertise with robotic arms and imaging techniques can be put to use by Reidy Center researchers who need to accomplish pinpoint deliveries of electric pulses to specific cells. Previous DOD contracts and grants have helped the Vision Lab become a leader in the development of automated facial recognition technologies, and the facility also has created an electronic nose for a robotic, bomb-sniffing dog.

"ODU Vision Lab will develop advanced image analysis techniques under this collaborative effort to automatically locate the cell regions in bioelectric images for the application of ultrashort pulses," Asari said. "We will also develop advanced algorithms for human behavior recognition employing human face features movements and facial actions for crowd control to help keep our soldiers safer from potential threats by terrorists." Soldiers who must make quick decisions about how to deal with a crowd can utilize data analysis performed on images of the crowd captured by multiple cameras, Asari said. The formal title of this work is "Human Behavior Analysis and Recognition for Crowd Control."

Vision Lab currently has related research projects that have been funded previously by the Office of Naval Research and the Navy Engineering and Logistic Division through its Combating Terrorism Technology Support Office.

The Reidy Center's work with cold plasma for disinfecting wounds also extends to the decontamination of food and drinking water, and this is expected to be included in the projects undertaken with this week's DOD funding. Another component will be studies of pain management using pulsed voltages, which Schoenbach said have just gotten underway. "However, the initial results have indicated that there is a good chance that we will be able to achieve our goal of developing a non-chemical method of managing pain," he added.

Schoenbach noted that the center's research with an antenna-based delivery system for electrical pulses, which would allow doctors to diagnose and treat tissues, such as tumors, without physical contact, should get a boost from the latest DOD appropriation even though it is already funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and by Frank Reidy, the Virginia Beach philanthropist for whom the center is named.

The cancer research continues to be the main thrust at the center. Earlier this year, a research team, led by Andrei Pakhomov, a research associate professor at the center, received a $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study human therapeutic applications based on the center's fundamental work with ultrashort electric pulses.

With the grant, Pakhomov proposes a research agenda that will explore the biological reasons behind the center's remarkable success with zapping tumors on mice. Researchers at the center have a good understanding of the net result of directing ultrashort pulses against cells. Now they want to know why the pulses are so effective and more about the pulses' effects on living tissue. Before experimental treatments can evolve into therapeutic applications on humans, this fundamental research is required.

This article was posted on: October 3, 2008

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