Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Fiegel, Jennifer

First Committee Member

Donovan, Maureen

Second Committee Member

Flanagan, Douglas

Third Committee Member

Milavetz, Gary

Fourth Committee Member

Reinhardt, Joseph


Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacterial biofilms are the leading cause of mortality among cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Biofilms contain bacteria attached to a surface and encased in a protective matrix. Since bacteria within a biofilm are less susceptible to antibiotics, a new approach is to use dispersion compounds that cause the biofilms to release free-swimming bacteria. Our approach has focused on combining nutrient dispersion compounds with antibiotics to increase eradication of bacteria within biofilms. This approach takes advantage of the enhanced susceptibility of free-swimming bacteria to antibiotics, compared to bacteria within biofilms. Ultimately, this research will guide the development of an aerosol therapy containing both antibiotic and dispersion compounds to treat bacterial biofilm infections.

To study the effect of antibiotic and dispersion compound treatments on biofilm eradication, a high-throughput screening assay was used to assess the effect on young Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms. In addition, a Lab-Tek chambered coverglass system imaged via confocal microscopy was used to assess the effect on mature Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms. Seven antibiotics (amikacin disulfate, tobramycin sulfate, colistin sulfate, colistin methanesulfonate (CMS), polymyxinB sulfate, erythromycin, and ciprofloxacin hydrochloride) were tested alone or in combination with four nutrient dispersion compounds (sodium citrate, succinic acid, xylitol, and glutamic acid) to assess the level of eradication of bacteria within biofilms. For young biofilms, 15 of 24 combinations significantly eliminated more live bacteria within the biofilms (measured in colony forming units per milliliter) compared to antibiotics alone. In the more mature biofilm system, only 3 out of 26 combinations resulted in a higher percentage of live biofilm bacteria being eliminated compared to antibiotics alone, showing the importance of biofilm age in the effectiveness of these potential combination therapies.

To aid in confocal microscopic analysis of biofilms, an automated quantification program called STAINIFICATION was developed. This new program can be used to simultaneously investigate connected-biofilm bacteria, unconnected bacteria (dispersed bacteria), the biofilm protective matrix, and a growth surface upon which bacteria are grown in confocal images. The program contains novel algorithms for the assessment of bacterial viability and for the quantification of bacteria grown on uneven surfaces, such as tissue. The utility of the viability assessments were demonstrated with confocal images of Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms. The utility of the uneven surface algorithms were demonstrated with confocal images of Staphylococcus aureus biofilms grown on cultured human airway epithelial cells and Neisseria gonorrhoeae biofilms grown on transformed cervical epithelial cells.

Finally, a proof-of-concept study demonstrated that dry powder aerosols containing both antibiotic and nutrient dispersion compounds could be developed with properties optimized for efficient deposition in the lungs. A design of experiments study showed that solution concentration was the most significant parameter affecting aerosol yield, particle size, and in vitro deposition profiles.

Collectively this work demonstrated that bacterial dispersion from biofilms can enhance antibiotic susceptibility and can be better quantified using the new STAINIFICATION software. Formulation of dispersion compounds and antibiotics into a dry powder aerosol could enable more effective treatment of biofilm infections in the lungs.


Aerosol, Biofilm, Confocal, Dispersion, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Quantification


xvi, 260 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 244-260).


Copyright 2013 Stacy Sommerfeld Ross