Researchers at the University of South Australia have found that cool jets of plasma stimulate cells in the bodies of mice, helping to close wounds or kill tumours.
Dr Endre Szili from the Future Industries Institute at the University of South Australia said researchers were able to use plasma to influence the operations of cells.
“We’ve found that under some circumstances, you can use the plasma to directly intervene with certain cellular signalling processes, which is quite important for driving a whole range of biological and physiological processes,” he said.
“Recently we’ve shown that plasma can be used to deliver signals into a solid tumour and we’ve shown that you’re able to trigger cell death within the cancer mass.
“This could potentially explain how plasma could be used as a targeted therapy, because you can aim the plasma just at the site of the tumour.”
The ability to target with plasma is one of its major upsides compared to laser or radiation therapy, the most common current forms of treatment.
Plasma arc welding, traditionally used in materials processing, uses heated ionised gas to transfer an electrical current to worked pieces of metal.
Unlike conventional arc welders, the plasma jets being researched for medical use are cool to the touch and can be applied to skin.
“That’s a significant advantage compared to other current therapies such as radiation therapy where you have a significant percentage of patients where their skin actually gets damaged by the treatment,” Dir Szili said.
These reactive molecules – collectively known as RONS – are part of the cellular signalling process.
Long thought to be detrimental to the health of the body and a contributor to ageing, RONS have now been shown to have benefits if levels are carefully monitored.
“Now that research has progressed, people have realised that you actually need RONS to survive, so the cells in your own body actually manufacture their RONS, and they help in the cellular signalling processes and can also help in the fight against diseases, Dr Szili said.
In order to safely deliver RONS to cells, the Future Institute has developed a hydrogel dressing (right) which can be used to indirectly apply plasma to tissues in the body.
“We’re taking quite a cautious approach, so what we’ve done is we’ve used the plasma to activate these dressings which are usually applied to wounds,” Dr Szili said.
“What this does is removes the potentially quite damaging shorter lived and highly reactive oxygen and nitrogen species because they’re filtered out.
“Then you have the longer lived reactive oxygen and nitrogen species which are left reactive, and they can also be quite beneficial for stimulating wound healing.”
The mice trials were completed earlier this year and are expected to progress to pigs in 2017, with human trials as close as 36 months away.
The Future Institute’s research is part of an international collaboration with Kochi University of Technology, Meijo University, Kochi Medical School,Toyohashi University of Technology, and Kwangwoon University.
South Australia’s capital Adelaide has three long-standing public universities, Flinders University, University of South Australia, and the University of Adelaide, each of which are consistently rated highly in the international higher education rankings.Jump to next article