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Karl H. Schoenbach, the Batten Endowed Chair for Bioelectrics Engineering at Old Dominion University and director of the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics, received the 2007 Peter Haas Pulsed Power Award at the International Pulsed Power and Plasma Science Conference in Albuquerque, N.M., in June.

This year's conference brought together 1,100 participants from more than 30 countries. It is a function of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The award, which includes a $2,000 prize, is presented every other year for "outstanding contributions to pulsed power technology in developing programs of research, education and information exchange." The Peter Haas and Erwin Marx Awards are the two most prestigious awards presented by the Pulsed Power Society.

Schoenbach was honored primarily for establishing a new, interdisciplinary field of research - bioelectrics - within the pulsed power community. As the award winner, he addressed the conference at a plenary session on the topic, "Bioelectrics: Using Pulsed Power Technology to Control Biological Cell Functions."

As the founding director of the four-year-old Reidy Center, which is operated by ODU and Eastern Virginia Medical School, Schoenbach has attracted a group of researchers of international renown and has led them to the forefront of bioelectrics research. He is recognized as a pioneer in the field of intracellular electromanipulation.

Schoenbach's innovations include the use of pulsed electric fields of very short duration to trigger an orderly self-destruct mechanism-called apoptosis-in tumor cells. His collaborators at the Reidy Center include Stephen J. Beebe, EVMS professor of physiological sciences and pediatrics; Juergen F. Kolb, ODU assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Michael Stacey and Andrei Pakhomov, research associate professors in bioelectrics.

Nanosecond-range electric field pulses produce remarkable effects compared to longer pulses because of the field's penetration of the outer cellular membrane. Membranes typically resist penetration by electric fields, but the ultrashort pulses, lasting only 300 nanoseconds or 0.3 millionths of a second each, essentially sneak through before the outer membrane can mount a defense. Once inside the cell, the electric field is able to act upon the nucleus and other intercellular organelles.

Schoenbach has predicted that cell electromanipulation "will end up in your doctor's office" with applications not only for tumor treatment, but also for gene therapy, wound healing, removal of warts, treatment of fungal infections and other cosmetic uses. "The effects that have been observed so far are only the tip of the iceberg," he says.

Largely because of the work of Schoenbach and Beebe, Old Dominion administers a multi-university consortium for bioelectrics researchers representing the Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, University of Texas Health Sciences Center, Washington University, the University of Wisconsin, as well as the Reidy Center.

Old Dominion also is involved in international bioelectrics collaboration, having established a consortium for bioelectrics with Kumamoto University in Japan, the University of Missouri, Columbia, and the Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe and Institute for Low-Temperature Plasma Physics, both national laboratories in Germany.

This article was posted on: July 2, 2007

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