Hitesh Handa doesn't think a hospital stay for one problem should turn into another.
But that's exactly what happens to tens of thousands of people every year when their central lines or catheters become infected during hospital stays.
Lucky for future hospital patients, Handa, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Georgia, is developing coatings for medical devices to keep patients from contracting potentially deadly infections.
These coatings release nitric oxide, a powerful gas found naturally in the body that keeps blood flowing and staves off infection. It also can prevent bacteria from multiplying on the devices and causing disease.
"I feel engineers have a lot of solutions, but we don't know what the problems are sometimes," Handa said. "And clinicians have a lot of problems they want solutions for, but they don't know who to go to. So, I thought, why not? I can be the bridge between engineers and clinicians."
Handa's background in polymer science, materials engineering and the medical device industry inform his commitment to practical research with tangible results. The nitric oxide coating technology has the potential to impact millions of patients, from those who are catheterized during hospital stays to those who undergo hemodialysis for kidney failure to those who need endotracheal tubes to breathe.
Perhaps most exciting about Handa's technology is that it employs a tool the body already uses for a similar purpose.
"Researchers around the world are trying to find solutions to blood clotting and infection, but I think what nature does is probably the best solution," Handa said. "Why not mimic nature rather than designing our own ideas or materials or solutions to the problems?"
So that's what Handa is doing, with supporting grants from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. Preliminary data shows that the coated medical devices can prevent infection at a very high level, above 99 percent, in animal subjects.
Now Handa is focusing on how to translate his technology "from benchtop to bedside," saying that, while publications are great, he wants to have a real impact on bettering people's lives.
"We all have temporary time on Earth, right?" Handa said. "Why not do something that, when I'm dying, I think, ‘I did pretty well. I did something that can help people even when I'm gone.' "