Scientists may have found a way to treat infections that works better than antibiotics. The solution is not another drug, but a feat of physics: cold plasma.
Before you ask whether that is an oxymoron, let me explain. Cold here is not cold in the Arctic sense; rather the opposite of scalding hot. Plasma — an ionized gas sometimes called the fourth state of matter — typically exists at thousands of degrees Celsius, and hot plasmas are regularly used to sterilizing surgical equipment.
Cold plasmas are closer to room temperatures. And only recently have researchers been able to make plasmas at a steady 35 to 40 degrees Celsius and at atmospheric pressure. This is cold enough to touch safely — watch this woman on YouTube run her finger beneath a cold plasma flame.
Svetlana Ermolaeva and her research team at the Gamaleya Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow wanted to see how well cold plasma could work against nasty microbes that lead to infections.They used a cold plasma torch in the lab to combat two common bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus, which show up frequently in wound infections, but are resistant to antibiotics because they have a protective layer called a biofilm.
After five minutes, the plasma torch killed 99 percent of bacteria grown in a Petri dish, and after ten minutes, it killed 90 percent of bacteria present in the wounds of a rats. And because the torch can be directed at a specific, small area of infection, surrounding tissue is left unharmed.
"Cold plasmas are able to kill bacteria by damaging microbial DNA and surface structures without being harmful to human tissues. Importantly we have shown that plasma is able to kill bacteria growing in biofilms in wounds, although thicker biofilms show some resistance to treatment," Ermolaeva said in a press release.
The researchers published their results in the Journal of Medical Microbiology.
Antibiotics, you may have met your match. Not only does cold plasma treatment avoid the nasty side effects that drugs often bring, but the ionized torch destroys bacteria indiscriminately — whether it is antibiotic-resistant or not. There is no escaping a plasma attack.