The Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics (CBE) exemplifies Old Dominion University's leadership role in this new field along with substantial federal agency support. The mission of the center is to increase scientific knowledge and understanding of the interaction of electromagnetic fields and ionized gases with biological cells and to apply this knowledge to the development of medical diagnostics, therapeutics, and environmental decontamination. The objectives of the center are to perform leading-edge interdisciplinary and multi-institutional research, recruit top faculty and exceptional graduate students, support regional, national and international programs, and to increase external funding and institutional visibility.
- Pulsed power technology for biological/medical applications in the nanosecond and subnanosecond range through to the microsecond, millisecond and second range.
- Design and modeling of pulse delivery systems ranging from needle electrodes over coaxial plane electrodes to antennas.
- Development of applications for ultrashort pulse technology ranging from wound healing to tumor treatment to neuromuscular effects.
- Development of devices and protocols for pulse delivery systems for drugs and genes.
History of the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics
Today, approximately 32 researchers from more than 10 countries work in a 34,000-square-foot center that contains laboratories for research topics reaching from bacterial decontamination of food to novel cancer therapies. The list of grants, patents awarded, number of invited talks at prestigious scientific conferences and publications are testaments to the impact that the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics has made in the scientific world.
The Center for Bioelectrics' founder, Karl Schoenbach, is one of the fathers of bioelectrics. Schoenbach, who arrived at Old Dominion University in 1985, is an Eminent Scholar, professor of electrical and computer engineering and Batten Endowed Chair in Bioelectrics Engineering at the university. Schoenbach founded the center with the help of Hampton Roads entrepreneur Frank Reidy and has leveraged expertise both at ODU and at Eastern Virginia Medical School to build the Norfolk facility into a leader in pulsed power science and technology.
Schoenbach's research focused on the use of pulsed power, or the application of powerful electrical surges, for extremely short periods of time, to manipulate biological cells, tissues and/or organisms. He explored how these high-intensity electrical surges can be used to remove diseased or unwanted tumors and cells. His use of technology in this way for medicine and biology was the first of its kind in the world. His research led Schoenbach to develop the CBE in 2002 as a research initiative within the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology at Old Dominion University, in partnership with Eastern Virginia Medical School. It grew as an Enterprise Center and in 2005 moved to offices and laboratories closer to its partner, EVMS.
In 2008, Richard Heller, a pioneer in electrogenetherapy, moved from the University of South Florida to ODU and was named director of the Reidy Center. Heller's wife, Loree, also made the move from USF and is now a researcher affiliated with the center. Florida media labeled their leaving as part of a "brain drain" of researchers seeking better opportunities elsewhere.
With Heller's arrival, Schoenbach was able to step down to focus on research. He was the leading source for a report on bioelectrics in March 2009 in a "Wired" magazine blog on new technology, explaining the latest research at the Reidy Center, such as the use of special antennae to deliver ultrashort pulses of electricity inside the body to bring about the orderly death of cancer cells. He also touted other methods that he and his colleagues are testing to kill or tweak targeted cells-such as tumor cells-with ultrashort pulses without adversely affecting surrounding cells.
A few months after Heller came to ODU, he and a team of colleagues who did their original investigations in Florida, reported safe and effective treatment of skin cancer in the first-ever human trial of a gene-transfer process assisted by short pulses of electricity. The findings, published by the Journal of Clinical Oncology, show not only regression of treated melanoma skin lesions, but also a secondary effect of in vivo DNA electroporation that in some patients brought about regression of so-called "distant lesions" that had not been treated. This implies a systemic immunological response in the human body to the localized gene transfer. Ultrashort pulses pepper the membranes of target cells, creating entry ways for genetic material. The DNA material that was used is a cytokine that stimulates both adaptive and innate immunity, helping the body to fight cancer.
By 2009, the Center for Bioelectrics was again ready to expand, this time relocating to the newly developed Innovation Research Park at Old Dominion University, on the east side of campus.
Heller believes the new space will enhance research efforts at the center. "The new laboratories are designed to facilitate continued growth of our research programs and provide us with expanded research cores. It is envisioned that these laboratories will enable us to eventually expand the number of researchers within the center. Moving our location to campus will increase our interactions with researchers and students from multiple colleges," he said.
"We believe we are hastening the day when bioelectrics realizes its potential in cancer therapies, immunotherapies, vaccine delivery, wound healing and any number of other applications that improve human health and welfare," says Heller. His work and that of 50 other Reidy Center scientists and staff have inspired growth at the center in the past few years, acquiring major research grants that fund promising areas of investigation, conducted by prominent researchers who are attracted by the opportunity to develop their ideas while they create a new field in the sciences.
Frank Reidy, an engineer, entrepreneur and humanitarian, gave life to Karl Schoenbach's vision for a research center devoted to bioelectrics. In 1998, he began working with Schoenbach to support the development of a new science of bioelectrics with a research center that today carries his name.
Reidy received a Bachelor of Civil Engineering from Villanova University in 1963 and a diploma in Far East studies from the University of Minnesota in 1964. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Old Dominion University in May 2008 and was appointed to the Board of Visitors on July 1, 2011.
Reidy is a shareholder and director of Pennsylvania General Energy, an exploration, drilling and production company for natural gas and oil in Pennsylvania. From 1972 to 1984 he was shareholder and managing director of General Diesel Supplies in the Republic of Singapore, and was a shareholder and manager of Applied Technical Services in Saigon, Vietnam, from 1965 to 1972. He served in the American Peace Corps in Bangladesh from 1963 to 1965, working with local government personnel implementing rural public works programs building schools and hurricane shelters.
Reidy has long been active on the board of governors of Operation Smile International and was its director from 1991-2000. He also served on the Singapore chapter of the Young Presidents' Organization and the International Tae Kwan Do Federation, receiving his third-degree black belt in 1973. Among his other accomplishments, he completed a 3,500-mile bicycle trip across the USA in 2002 with America by Bicycle.
A resident of Virginia Beach since 1986, Frank Reidy and his wife, Juliette, also have a home in Warren, Pa. The couple has three sons.