Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Chemical and Biochemical Engineering

First Advisor

Eric E. Nuxoll


Upon forming a biofilm, bacteria undergo several changes that prevent them from being eradicated with antimicrobials alone. These biofilms manifest as persistent infections and biofouling in the medical and industrial world, respectively, constituting an ongoing medical crisis and creating a huge financial burden. Biofilms on implanted medical devices cause thousands of patients each year to undergo multiple surgeries to explant and replace the implant, driving billions of dollars in increased health care costs due to the lack of viable treatment options for in situ biofilm eradication. Heat has been used to reliably eliminate biofilms for many years, but the temperatures employed are infeasible for many applications, particularly in vivo medical treatment. Remotely activated localized heat can be applied through a superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticle polymer coating when paired with an alternating magnetic field. However, there is very little known about the temperatures required to kill the biofilms and the effects of the heat in conjunction with antibiotics. To better understand the required parameters to effectively kill off bacteria in biofilms a variety of heat treatments were investigated for a variety of Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms grown in different conditions. Additionally, these heat treatments were combined with antibiotics to better understand any combined effects of the two orthogonal treatment plans. It was found that heat is an effective method for killing the bacteria in biofilms. Temperatures ranging from body temperature, 37 °C, to 80 °C were used to heat shock the biofilms for 1 to 30 minutes. Higher temperatures for short exposure times yielded similar results to lower temperatures for longer exposure time. Biofilms grown in different conditions did vary in their susceptibility to the heat shocks; however, at the higher temperatures the differences became negligible. Therefore, the more effective treatments were the higher temperature heat shocks with shorter exposure times to maximize bacterial cell death and minimize the potential heat transfer to the surrounding tissue. Regrowth studies indicate a critical post-shock bacterial loading (~103 CFU/cm2) below which the biofilms were no longer viable, while films above that loading slowly regrew to their previous population density. Combined treatments with antibiotics had synergistic effects for all antibiotics across a window of heat shock conditions. Erythromycin in particular, which showed no effect on the biofilm alone, decreased biofilm population by six orders of magnitude at temperatures which had no effect in the absence of antibiotics. These studies will evolve the understanding of biofilms and how to efficiently eradicate them on implant surfaces. The introduction of such a novel coating in conjunction with antibiotics could obviate thousands of surgeries and save billions of dollars spent on explantation, recovery, and re-implantation.


Antibiotics, Biofilms, Heat Shock, Implant Infections, Pseudomonas aeruginosa


xvi, 167 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 156-167).


Copyright © 2017 Erica Noyes Bader Ricker