Plasma medicine: new approaches to cancer and resistant germs

Plasma medicine: new approaches to cancer and resistant germs

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Antibacterial effects and potential areas of application of plasma treatment

Plasma medicine includes new types of treatment that can be used, for example, to treat cancer, resistant bacteria or to heal chronic wounds. An international research team recently developed a unique process to generate plasma directly in liquids. As a result, plasma medicine is taking a big step forward in its applicability.

A research team from Penn State’s College of Engineering, the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Medicine is presenting a new process in plasma medicine that could be used in a variety of ways in the healthcare industry. By using low-temperature plasma, for example, resistant bacteria in liquids can be killed. The research results were recently presented in the renowned scientific reports.

Plasma - the fourth state of matter

In addition to solid, liquid and gaseous, the plasma state is referred to as the fourth physical state, since plasma has specific properties that substances in the other three physical states do not have. As a rule, plasma is very hot - thousands to millions of degrees. The researchers showed that a special low-temperature plasma can be used to generate molecules and atoms with an antibacterial effect. Since the reactive particles produced in this way are so diverse, the probability is extremely low that bacteria can develop resistance to the treatment.

The cold plasma is produced with a plasma jet under atmospheric pressure at room temperature. In this way, reactive oxygen species or reactive particles can be extracted from molecules in the air, from water vapor or other molecules which contain oxygen atoms. Bacteria such as E. coli and Staph. aureus can be killed off by the reactive particles over several generations.

Plasma treatment instead of antibiotics

"Over the course of four generations of bacteria, these bacteria did not acquire any form of resistance to the plasma treatment," reports Professor Sean Knecht from the research team. As certain bacteria mutate more and more so that they become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, plasma treatment can become an important alternative.

Human cells remain unharmed

The team's research shows that plasma treatment can produce various reactive oxygen species in a concentration high enough to kill bacteria but low enough not to have a negative impact on human cells. Unlike antibiotics, oxygen species quickly attack just about any part of the bacteria, including proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids.

With the sledgehammer against bacteria

"You can call it a sledgehammer approach," emphasizes Professor Girish Kirimanjeswara from the research team. It is practically impossible for the bacteria to develop resistance to this treatment, as it would take a bunch of mutations to resist the various attacks.

Different areas of application of plasma treatment

The plasma can be generated directly in liquids, such as in the blood. In this way, the researchers want to develop a treatment for cardiovascular infections in which the germs are controlled directly at the source.

The current main area of ​​application of plasma medicine is the treatment of chronic wounds and pathogen-related skin diseases. The stimulation of new tissue formation can also accelerate natural wound healing and at the same time kill a large number of pathogens. Further areas of application of plasma medicine are the disinfection of living tissue, such as body surfaces, influencing blood coagulation and tissue regeneration. There is also research into methods of using plasma medicine as cancer treatment. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • McKayla J. Nicol, Timothy R. Brubaker, Brian J. Honish II, u.a .: Antibacterial effects of low-temperature plasma generated by atmospheric-pressure plasma jet are mediated by reactive oxygen species; in: Scientific Reports, 2020,
  • Penn State: Plasma medicine research highlights antibacterial effects and potential uses (published: 08.05.2020),

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