Kicking Research
Into High Gear

Four technological breakthroughs are one step closer to becoming reality thanks to a new source of funding at NC State. Meet the first researchers to receive the Chancellor's Innovation Fund award, which provides financial support and extensive mentoring to help bring new ideas to market.

Beating Bed Bugs

Dr. Coby Schal is getting used to being known as "the bed bug guy."

The entomologist has made the rounds of local and national media over the past year, from an interview on NPR's "The People's Pharmacy" to a talk at the Environmental Protection Agency's National Bed Bug Summit. His work was also featured in a National Geographic documentary.

He fields requests from all sorts of people, including those in medicine, construction, furniture and textiles.

"We're working with North Carolina companies quite a lot now, especially furniture makers," Schal says. "They're trying to prevent their furniture from harboring bed bugs, and they're interested in our help primarily because we raise bed bugs."

In fact, Schal probably raises more bed bugs than anyone in the world.

No visitor fails to notice the "Bed Bug Containment Area" sign on the door to Schal's lab, where he raises 40 different strains of bed bugs collected from all over the country, including about 10 strains from North Carolina.

"Different strains have unique features and different genetics, so it gives us a range of different populations to test our strategies," Schal says. "We're working hard to find solutions for bed bug control."

Smart Bandages

We've all seen bandages that already have antibiotic cream on them. But what about a bandage that could be programmed to deliver medications at a consistent rate? Biomedical engineer Dr. Elizabeth Loboa and fiber and polymer scientist Dr. Behnam Pourdeyhimi are working on fibers with these properties that, when woven into bandages, could deliver drugs that promote healing and tissue regeneration.

The bandages are made of nanofibers that mimic the size scale of collagen, the dominant protein in the human body. The outside of the bandages is antibacterial; the inside is designed to deliver stem cells, collected from the patient's fat, to injured areas and encourage speedier growth of new tissue.

"What we're trying to create is what you can think of as a programmable bandage, essentially, for patient-specific, traumatic wounds," Loboa says.

Stopping Salmonella

Chickens are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to the spread of Salmonella a nasty food-borne illness to humans. Wouldn't it be great if we could stop it at the source? Microbiologist Dr. Hosni Hassan and poultry scientist Dr. Matt Koci are working together to develop a vaccine that could be given to poultry and other animals to prevent them from carrying and spreading the disease to each other and to your kitchen.

"The idea is since chickens are a reservoir for Salmonella, we can give them a strain that isn't pathogenic and allow the chickens immune systems to respond to the Salmonella, so hopefully they will clear the disease from their systems," Koci says.

The vaccine would provide a one-two punch, he adds, providing protection from the disease to both humans and animals alike.

The grant from the Chancellor's Innovation Fund is welcome news for Hassan, who has been funding much of the research himself. But he's not the only one who will cheer once vaccine development begins.

"This technology, if successful, can increase employment in North Carolina and the United States, and even overseas, because the problem is not just a U.S. problem, it's a national and international problem," he says.

Sun-Proof Fabrics

Outdoor fabrics that last in the sun and don't cost a ton? These are on the horizon thanks to work by chemical engineer Dr. Greg Parsons, textile engineer Dr. Jesse Jur, and post-doctoral researcher Dr. Chris Oldham, who are developing nanocoatings for fabrics that protect them from ultraviolet rays. The work goes beyond building better beach umbrellas. They believe these coatings can be used to produce protective clothing and other advanced textiles.

Soldiers on the battlefield, for example, may one day be protected from chemical and biological weapons thanks to filters developed by the team. They've already secured a contract with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to test their process, which coats fabrics with a nanolaminate, a chemical encapsulation layer.

"We're essentially layering atoms on top of each other," says Oldham, as he places a piece of test fabric in one of the lab's stainless steel reactors. "The nanofilm is held by chemical bonds, not static. It actually becomes part of the material."

The work has environmental implications as well. Since cotton has a smaller carbon footprint than synthetic fabrics, an innovation that makes cotton as durable as polyester could reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

"We have a lot to prove and the transition from the lab to industry is very difficult," Jur says. "But it helps to have resources. The cool thing about NC State is how much applied research can and does make the transition to the market."

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Dr. Coby Schal is finding ways to control bed bugs.

Dr. Elizabeth Loboa is part of a team developing bandages that promote wound healing.

Dr. Hosni Hassan works on a vaccine to protect against Salmonella.

From left, Drs. Greg Parsons, Jesse Jur and Chris Oldham examine a piece of fabric being prepared for a nanoscale coating.