Drexel Researchers License Non-Thermal Plasma Technologies with Breakthrough Medical Potential
Drexel University’s plasma medicine technologies developed in the A.J. Drexel Plasma Institute, were licensed to Plasma Technologies, Inc.(PTI), a Texas-based company that intends to design, patent and market medical devices related to wound healing and care, prevention of hospital borne infections, and other medical applications. The technology may have near term impact not only in civilian healthcare settings, but also on the U.S. military applications.
“We are pleased to have PTI as a partner to commercialize the plasma medicine technologies,” said Dr. Ken Blank, vice provost for research at Drexel. “PTI has the expertise to bring the technology through clinical trials and FDA approval so that this breakthrough technology can be used to benefit patients.”
Found in fluorescent light bulbs and high-end televisions, non-thermal or cold plasma can also be used in medicine, as Drexel researchers discovered. Part of what makes this technology so desirable is that small amounts of energy are used instead of chemicals in the medical process.
The researchers found that cold plasma can kill bacteria (including B. anthracis which is a causing agent of anthrax, E.Coli, Streptococci and Staphylococci) on living tissue within seconds without causing side effects. Cold plasma can also stop bleeding, making it effective in some surgical procedures and in treating intestinal ulcers and persistent nosebleeds. For example, a severe wound that might bleed for 10-20 minutes was stopped after only 15 seconds of plasma exposure and with no tissue damage. Initial findings also show cold plasma can promote the growth of some human cells at doses slightly greater than those needed to kill bacteria.
Cold plasma produces medical effects by enhancing biochemical processes that would either occur slowly or not at all, researchers in the Plasma Institute say. For the same reasons, cold plasma has already found many uses in fuel conversion and hydrogen production, energy systems and aerospace engineering, environmental control and material and waste treatment.
Prototype medical devices have been designed with the participation of PTI’s surgeons to address needs in trauma and plastic surgery, and to augment healing in acute and chronic wounds. These devices have immediate applications in the battlefield, emergency rooms, rehabilitation centers and cancer treatment centers in the military as well as international and US civilian markets.
"With Drexel’s plasma medical technologies license, we've moved well beyond theory to the implementation of this revolutionary technological advance in medicine.” said Bert Quintanilla, who oversees the plasma commercialization project-development team, medical subject-matter experts, plasma researchers and device design specialists. "Plasma Technologies, Inc. is positioned to market and further develop this technology for a variety of commercial applications.”
The use of cold plasma in medicine is the brainchild of two Drexel researchers Dr. Gary Friedman, associate director for plasma medicine in Drexel’s Plasma Institute and professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Dr. Alex Fridman, director of the Plasma Institute and John A. Nyheim Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics. Their work, which has created a new
field, is the product of interdisciplinary research involving the Drexel University College of Medicine and the colleges of arts and sciences, business and engineering.
Initial research on plasma medicine was sponsored three years ago by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which sought to replace drugs and chemicals the U.S. Army uses to kill pathogenic microorganisms. Supplying those materials to remote areas and disposing of them is a logistical challenge for the Army, Friedman says, hindering delivery of care to the battlefield as well as in peace-keeping and disaster-relief missions.
Non-thermal plasma, however, contains no drugs or chemicals and requires only modest electrical power, widely available in military vehicles and communication equipment. Drexel researchers developed several devices capable of delivering cold plasma discharge that can care for wounds and sterilize medical instruments. The devices are portable, fitting in a laptop computer briefcase. They have been tested on animals since fall 2006 and proven to be safe.
Under an associated collaborative research agreement, Drexel researchers will continue to develop new medical applications for plasma with funding from PTI. “Drexel will continue to identify important new medical applications for this technology,” said Alex Fridman.
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