Part 1: Planning activities are being pursued by this cross-institutional team to develop the Engineering Research Center for Innovative Materials and Processes for Antimicrobial Control Technologies (ERC-IMPACT). The mission of IMPACT is to advance antimicrobial control technologies through innovations in science, engineering, and education. It is motivated by the rapid increase in antimicrobial resistant infections, which have become a major challenge to human health. It is predicted that superbug infections will cause more deaths than all cancers combined by 2050 if no effective controls are found. Microbes can survive the attack of antimicrobials either through genetic elements (i.e. superbugs) or by forming surface-attached biofilms. Addressing the grand challenge of antimicrobial-resistant infection requires major collaborative efforts of convergent research to understand the mechanism of antimicrobial resistance, engineer more effective biomaterials and medical devices, and develop better regulatory guidelines to ensure the safety of medical implants. This multidisciplinary team will take the ERC planning opportunity to engage stakeholders and prioritize the activities in research, education, industrial collaboration, and outreach to build a solid foundation for a competitive ERC application. The planning grant will enable team-building and structuring of IMPACT that will subsequently lead to transformative broader impacts on healthcare and biosecurity through innovation in microbial control technologies and processes; development of cross-disciplinary expertise and workforce; building academia-industry partnerships with a culture that encourages diversity and inclusion; strategic engagement with national and global partners; and a sustainable innovation ecosystem that can attract funding and resources for a successful future.
Part 2: The Engineering Research Center for Innovative Materials and Processes for Antimicrobial Control Technologies (ERC-IMPACT) will lead breakthroughs in science and technology to address the grand challenge of antimicrobial resistant infections. Such infections come both from mechanisms of natural selection and from biofilm formation. In particular, the design of medical devices and biomaterials has to this point focused almost exclusively on the main function of the device itself and safety to the host, i.e., healing. The competing microbial factors from both pathogens and the host microbiome are largely unexplored. Thus, the material properties that not only promote healing but also resist infection over time are not well understood. Similarly, there is a lack of effective biofilm control strategies. Currently available antimicrobials were discovered using drug screening platforms that only target the growth of planktonic (free-swimming) microbial cells. With the conventional antimicrobials being ineffective, new treatment methods are urgently needed, particularly in the context of tissue-contacting biomaterials/devices that are so critical to human health. ERC-IMPACT will bridge knowledge gaps and provide solutions based on rational design to address the grand challenge of antimicrobial resistance and its role in device-associated infections. ERC-IMPACT will: (1) forge convergent research to understand and control the complex interactions between different microbial species, host cells, and implanted biomaterials; (2) engineer new materials and devices to actively sense and respond to microbial infections; and (3) develop new control methods that do not require conventional antimicrobials or minimize the use through synergistic activities. To accelerate the evolution of the envisioned ERC, the team will engage with stakeholders in academia (university partners including minority-serving institutions), industry (small and large-scale companies, start-ups, research and development facilities), technology translation (patents, manufacturing, scalability, entrepreneurship), education (graduate, undergraduate, local schools, online learning), professionals (postdocs, veterans), and the broader community. The planning team will develop a strategic partnership that encompasses the four components central to the ERC program model - fundamental research, workforce development; diversity and inclusion; and innovation. The state-of-the-art ERC IMPACT center will build long-term engagement plans for stakeholders to fulfill its mission of innovation and to serve the community for better human health and a prosperous future.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.