Plasma at low temperatures is capable of killing bacterial species in chronic wound infections and protective biofilms

A team of researchers from the Gamaleya Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow may have found an alternative to antibiotics that is both effective and safe. 

Dr. Svetlana Ermolaeva, leader of the study, along with a team of researchers from the Gamaleya Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, may have found a substitute for antibiotics that is capable of treating multi-drug resistant infections. 

The alternative is cold plasma jets. According to the researchers, cold plasma has the ability to fight several bacterial species like Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Antibiotics used today have a difficult time fighting these bacterial species because the bacteria can form biofilms, which are protective layers made by the bacterial species growing together, which makes them resistant to the antibiotics. 

But now, the researchers have found that plasma (at a low temperature of 35-40 degrees Celsius) could be a promising combatant against chronic wound infections. Plasmas are created when high-energy processes "strip atoms of their electrons" to make ionized gas flows at increased temperatures. Hot plasmas are already in use for medical and technical purposes such as disinfecting surgical utensils. 

Ermolaeva and the team of researchers have begun testing cold plasma's ability to fight drug-resistant bacterial species in rats, and found that a 10-minute treatment was effective in not only killing the bacteria, but also caused the wound to heal faster. The low-temperature plasma killed up to 99 percent of bacteria found within lab-grown biofilms after a five minute time period, while this same plasma killed 90 percent of bacteria infecting skin wounds in rats after a 10 minute time period. 

"Cold plasmas are able to kill bacteria by damaging microbial DNA and surface structures without being harmful to human tissues," said Ermolaeva. "Importantly we have shown that plasma is able to kill bacteria growing in biofilms in wounds, although thicker biofilms show some resistance to treatment."

The research team plans to continue their research to better the technique and find useful medical applications for cold plasma. 

"Our work demonstrates that plasma is effective against pathogenic bacteria with multiple-antibiotic resistance - not just in Petri dishes but in actual infected wounds," said Ermolaeva. "Another huge advantage to plasma therapy is that it is non-specific, meaning it is much harder for bacteria to develop resistance. It's a method that is contact-free, painless, and does not contribute to chemical contamination of the environment."

This study was published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology.

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