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Living Tissue Sterilization by the Dielectric Barrier Discharge Plasma

K. Barbee, G. Friedman, A. Fridman, A. Brooks, V. Vasilets, and A. Gutsol)

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Abstract: Despite tremendous advances in surgical technique and technology, a fundamental requirement for a successful outcome is proper sterilization of the surgical field. For routine and non-emergent procedures, this is accomplished by pre-operative topical application of disinfectant solutions such as Betadine. However, there are many situations for which the use of chemical disinfectants is contraindicated. Open wounds are not amenable to chemical sterilization because of the potential for irritation, chemical burns, and tissue damage. Thus, there is a need for a nonchemical method of sterilization for a wide range of clinical applications that includes open wounds due to trauma, intraoperative sterilization of the peritoneum in the case of bowel perforation, post-operative wound care, surgery in the oral cavity, and diabetic ulcer care. Furthermore, a device capable of providing pre-operative sterilization of the surgical field without the use of chemical disinfectants would be useful in military applications or other situations in which supply line limitations make the use of chemical disinfectants more difficult to support. Finally, non-chemical sterilization methods capable of eradicating parasites, fungi, bacteria and viruses on or just beneath the surface of living tissue would also be useful for the treatment of a wide variety of conditions mediated by infectious agents such as acne, cutaneous Leishmaniasis, onychomycosis (toenail fungus), and athlete’s foot. We have developed a laboratory prototype Floating Electrode Dielectric Barrier Discharge (FE-DBD) system, which functions by applying an alternating or pulsed high voltage to one electrode covered by a dielectric and positioned in proximity (few millimeters) to tissue. We have shown that the plasma generated is capable of rapidly killing bacteria and other microorganisms without damaging the underlying tissue. We have tested efficacy and safety of this approach in realistic animal models simulating human skin and open wounds. The device itself was optimized for portability and customized for specific applications.

Drexel and a group of entrepreneurs have spun off a new company to commercialize this technology. The company is currently is working on animal trials for wound management in preparation for human trials as well as looking into raising its second round of funding.