An interdisciplinary team of European scientists has been studying the potential value of low-temperature atmospheric plasma for applications in medicine. One particular example is a device developed at Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany that can sterilize equipment by showering it with atoms stripped of their electrons. Unlike commonly known plasma, the low-temperature variety uses only a small number of stripped atoms to create the wanted effect.
Here’s the abstract from New Journal of Physics of a recent review of plasma applications in medicine:
This introductory review on plasma health care is intended to provide the interested reader with a summary of the current status of this emerging field, its scope, and its broad interdisciplinary approach, ranging from plasma physics, chemistry and technology, to microbiology, biochemistry, biophysics, medicine and hygiene. Apart from the basic plasma processes and the restrictions and requirements set by international health standards, the review focuses on plasma interaction with prokaryotic cells (bacteria), eukaryotic cells (mammalian cells), cell membranes, DNA etc. In so doing, some of the unfamiliar terminology—an unavoidable by-product of interdisciplinary research—is covered and explained. Plasma health care may provide a fast and efficient new path for effective hospital (and other public buildings) hygiene—helping to prevent and contain diseases that are continuously gaining ground as resistance of pathogens to antibiotics grows. The delivery of medically active ‘substances’ at the molecular or ionic level is another exciting topic of research through effects on cell walls (permeabilization), cell excitation (paracrine action) and the introduction of reactive species into cell cytoplasm. Electric fields, charging of surfaces, current flows etc can also affect tissue in a controlled way. The field is young and hopes are high. It is fitting to cover the beginnings in New Journal of Physics, since it is the physics (and non-equilibrium chemistry) of room temperature atmospheric pressure plasmas that have made this development of plasma health care possible.
Abstracts in New Journal of Physics: Plasma medicine: an introductory review; The effect of low-temperature plasma on bacteria as observed by repeated AFM imaging