Charles E. Kaufman Foundation

New Investigator Grant

Arnold Mathijssen, Ph.D.

Bacterial contamination dynamics on self-cleaning magnetic carpets


Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, human airway pathologies were the third leading cause of deaths worldwide. The primary guardian of the lungs is a “self-cleaning” carpet of cilia, which are whip-like organelles that beat rapidly to generate flows which pump mucus out of the respiratory system. However, it remains unclear how these cilia interact with bacteria, especially because bacteria can swim against flows and contaminate upstream areas deep inside the lungs. The goal of this research is to unravel respiratory pathogen clearance using a controllable “active carpet” of magnetic artificial cilia. The investigators recently discovered that these magnetic cilia can sort microparticles by size and shape  and also investigated how bacteria can swim upstream in the absence of cilia. Combining these elements from microbiology and microrobotics, this project will study the interplay of bacterial motility on active carpets. Goals are to microfabricate a lung-on-a-chip device with magnetic artificial cilia and to unravel how these cilia influence bacterial contamination dynamics and biofilm formation. Upon successful completion of this work, researchers will identify how self-cleaning carpets interact with the lung microbiome by dissecting their biochemical and biophysical mechanisms. This study is directly relevant to human airway pathologies, particularly those associated with reduced ciliary function such as cystic fibrosis and primary cilia dyskinesia. Moreover, magnetic cilia could serve as self-cleaning coating materials that prevent bacterial contamination in biomedical devices.


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