Middle-ear infections are a common affliction in early life, affecting more than 80% of children in the U.S. Antibiotics are often employed as a first line of defense but sometimes fail against the pathogenic bacteria that can develop in the middle ear, just behind the eardrum. In a new study, researchers explore the use of microplasma – a highly focused stream of chemically excited ions and molecules – as a noninvasive method for attacking the bacterial biofilms that resist antibiotic treatment in the middle ear.

The research team including Carle Illinois College of Medicine professors Stephen Boppart and Than H. (Helen) Nguyen, and researchers in Boppart’s Biophotonics Imaging Laboratory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, reports their findings in the journal npj Biofilms and Microbiomes.

Photo of three researchers standing on campus.
With their colleagues, U. of I. researchers, from left, Thanh H. (Helen) Nguyen, J. Gary Eden and Stephen Boppart found that microplasma can disrupt bacterial species in a middle-ear model. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Biofilms are communities of microbes that form on surfaces and reproduce, communicate with one another and secrete a slimy adhesive matrix that holds them together. They can be tenacious and harmful, especially when associated with infection.

They next tested microplasma on a model that simulated an infected, enclosed middle-ear cavity. For these experiments, they delivered the microplasma to the outside of the simulated eardrum, just as they would if they were treating a middle-ear infection in a human.

Editor’s notes:

To reach Jungeun (Jenny) Won, email jwon8@illinois.edu.

To reach Thanh Huong (Helen) Nguyen, email thn@illinois.edu.

The paper “Inactivation and sensitization of Pseudomonas aeruginosa by microplasma jet array for treating otitis media” is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau.

DOI: 10.1038/s41522-021-00219-2

The original article was published by the Illinois News Bureau and can be found here.