What Is Plasma Medicine?

Andrew Kirmayer

Plasma medicine focuses on the use of plasma, a high-energy state of matter, in association with living tissue. Thermal plasma has been used for many years, often at high-temperatures used to treat wounds. In the 21st century, non-thermal plasma may be applied at cold temperatures and can be used on localized areas without affecting nearby cells. It often kills bacteria, clots bleeding, and triggers tissues to start healing. Plasma could also be used to fight off and contain antibiotic resistant organisms in hospitals, for applying electric fields to tissues, and for manipulating individual cells.

A bag of blood plasma.
A bag of blood plasma.

As the field of plasma medicine has developed, various aspects of medicine and biology as well as physics and engineering have often been incorporated. The physical properties of material in a plasma state are generally important to understand in their relation to biological tissue and cells. Engineers can also use this information to build medical devices that use plasma. These instruments can help apply plasmas to small or difficult to reach areas of the body.

Thermal plasma at high temperatures can be used to treat wounds.
Thermal plasma at high temperatures can be used to treat wounds.

Plasma treatments often help skin conditions, and plasma medicine can be suitable for treating many skin problems. The complications of many skin diseases could be treated even if the process doesn’t cure the underlying problem. Patients can be more comfortable than if a persistent condition is left alone. Plasma dermatology could also be used for treating bacterial and fungal infections and their side effects, as well as chronic wounds.

Other applications of plasma medicine might also be in dentistry for preventative and surgical procedures. They could be useful for dental cleanings, treatments for gum disease, bonding implants, and helping implants bond to bone. Plasma can be applied directly to tissues during surgery, in which the treated area is exposed to the particles. It can also be applied indirectly as the various organs and tissues in the body help to direct electrical signals to the desired area.

There are various therapeutic applications to plasma medicine. Research in the early 21st century has also shown that plasma can kill cancer cells. These abnormal cells can enter a programmed death state from plasma, while their overall structure is more vulnerable than normal cells to treatment with plasma. Plasma can also be combined with chemicals to transport drugs on a molecular level. Electric fields may also be combined with plasma medicine to trigger reactions of cells and even get therapeutic substances to be absorbed by cell walls.

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