'Cold Plasma' Researchers See Success in New Leukemia Cancer Treatment Method

Dec 16, 2013, 13:49 ET from Texas A&M University

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas, Dec. 16, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The battle against cancer has historically involved things like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and bone marrow transplants, with outcomes from loss of hair to loss of life. But one researcher at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi believes there is a "ray of light" in the future of cancer treatment; literally.

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Dr. Magesh Thiyagarajan, Director of the Plasma Engineering Research Lab at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and his research team found a way to very effectively kill leukemia cells by treating them with "cold plasma." It is a treatment that would not only prolong lives, it could also be less traumatic to cancer patients than current treatments.

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Traditional plasma is made by heating up gas molecules to form what looks like a colored ray of light. We see it every day in plasma televisions and fluorescent lights. In a new study published in a high-impact biotechnology and bioengineering journal Wiley, Thiyagarajan explains that his research team has developed a way to make this happen without using the harmful heat and he says when he directs that ray of light called "cold plasma" at cancer cells, what happens is incredible.

"Within 24 hours, we began to see the destruction of over 90 percent of the cancer cells," said Thiyagarajan. "Cold plasma induces the cancer cells to self-destruct, but it can leave the healthy cells unharmed."

Thiyagarajan says the key reason healthy cells may not be affected during this process is due to the reactive species produced by the cold plasma also being a natural byproduct of a cell's own metabolic processes.

"The cold plasma forces those cancer cells to self-destruct in a rage of apoptosis," said Thiyagarajan. "In contrast, the healthy cells are unharmed due to their lower levels of reactive species to begin with."

Cancer cells can be killed in two different ways, apoptosis or necrosis.  Thiyagarajan says apoptosis is a natural and beneficial process that involves a series of biochemical events leading up to the cell's death.  Necrosis is caused by external factors such as infection, toxins, or trauma. When Thiyagarajan treated cancer cells with cold plasma he discovered that it could induce either or both apoptosis and/or necrosis depending on how he fine-tuned the cold plasma device. 

"In most cases apoptotic cancer treatment methods are preferred over necrosis," said Thiyagarajan. "An exception is in treatment of tumorous cancers, where necrotic process is also beneficial."

Each year, nearly 11 million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer and experts say, because of increasing populations, the cancer rate is rising. Thiyagarajan says that leukemia is the hardest to kill and that there is a tremendous need for better and more efficient leukemia treatment methods. 

"Because the patients suffer through the long-term side effects such as hair loss, memory impairment and nerve damage from current treatments, the demonstration of cold plasma as a highly potential cancer treatment is a significant breakthrough at many levels," said Thiyagarajan.

He also says this treatment will most likely transfer to other types of cancer with similar results. Further testing is needed before this can be tried on humans but Thiyagarajan says with additional funding, it could be available for clinical trials in as soon as three to five years.

About Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi: Offering more than 60 of the most popular degree programs in the state, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has proudly provided a solid academic reputation, renowned faculty, and highly-rated degree programs since 1947.  The Island University has earned its spot as a premier doctoral-granting institution, supporting two research institutes and 10 research centers and labs. Discover your island at tamucc.edu.

About the College of Science and Engineering: The College of Science and Engineering is in the race for discovery with research programs such as the premier Geographic Information Science (GIS) program in the country through the College's Conrad Blucher Institute, the innovative Plasma Engineering Research Lab, and a nationally-certified Computer Science program.  As one of the foremost institutions for coastal, marine and environmental research, the College offers two doctoral degrees in these areas and is also home to the Center for Coastal Studies. Students and faculty in the College are affiliated with the University's world-renowned Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.   

SOURCE Texas A&M University