Haydar Al-Jaafari, a PhD candidate in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, came to Iowa after completing B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in Chemical Engineering from the University of Technology in Baghdad, Iraq. With an interest in solving challenging research problems, Al-Jaafari has continued to pursue solutions in his graduate program here. His current research focuses on an innovative treatment for a widespread issue in healthcare: infections occurring on medical implants.
Americans receive hundreds of thousands of medical implants each year for a variety of purposes. Many of these implants serve life-saving functions, such as cardioverter defibrillators or pacemakers. However, one life-threatening risk can arise when bacteria colonize the surface of a medical implant device. Bacteria can form a biofilm infection, which acts as a resistance layer to antibiotics and the immune response of the host patient.
“The current standard of care is surgical removal of the implant and the surrounding tissue, with eventual reimplantation of a replacement device and twice the probability of infection,” says Al-Jaafari. “Thus, patients suffer through physical harm and poor quality of life, in addition to the high cost associated with these multiple invasive surgeries.”
Al-Jaafari has researched a promising alternative treatment for these infections, which does not require surgery or replacement of the implant device. His findings suggest that doctors could instead apply an alternating magnetic field that only generates heat on the surface of the implant - where the biofilm is growing. This technique could thermally kill the bacteria and eliminate the infection in a more efficient and less invasive way than current practices.
“My project could help eliminate a biofilm infection when it occurs by offering an innovative, noninvasive technique that offers better quality of care with no further physical harm,” says Al-Jaafari. “In addition, it will save the world billions of dollars each year.”
After presenting his research in the Graduate College’s 2019 Three Minute Thesis competition, Al-Jaafari was selected as a finalist. He was also awarded a Ballard and Seashore Dissertation Fellowship for the fall 2020 semester by the Graduate College.
“I’m immensely grateful for the financial support of the Higher Committee of Education Development, the Graduate College, and the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering,” says Al-Jaafari. “I’m also thankful for the support I have received from my thesis committee, especially my advisor, Eric Nuxoll. He has been my role model, mentor, and inspiration.”
Al-Jaafari credits his friends and family for encouraging him throughout his program and research as well. Now focusing on his dissertation and final semester of the program, he reflects that the PhD program has solidified his teaching experience while providing him opportunities to continue researching. Al-Jaafari views the program as meaningful in preparing him for a career in academia as a professor.