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Treatment of bacterial infections with non-thermal plasma
Plasma is the fourth state of matter in which gas becomes ionized and strongly electrically conductive due to a supply of energy. It is composed of ions, electrons and reactive radical species. It also emits electromagnetic radiation in form of UV and visible light. Non-equilibrium plasmas like “cold” plasmas can be generated by strong electric fields and have the advantage that only the electrons possess a very high temperature compared to the other composing species. This reduces the heat impact on applied surfaces and makes cold plasmas usable for biomedical applications
Cold or non-thermal plasma applied on a finger (M. Laroussi et al. 2003)
Interestingly, it was shown that cold plasmas efficiently kill multi-resistant bacteria whereas mammalian cells seem only to be slightly affected. This led to the idea to treat bacterial infections with non-thermal plasmas as an alternative to antibiotics.
In our group, we test the effects of cold or non-thermal plasmas on bacteria and eukaryotic cells with the aim to understand the mechanisms which guide this selective activity. We especially focus on the effects on cellular membranes by using biophysical, biochemical, analytical and bioinformatic approaches (see below). By understanding the detailed mechanisms, we aim to increase the efficiency/selectivity of plasmas towards bacteria by varying different parameters such as the frequency, the potential or the vector gas. Our final goal is to make plasma a working alternative for antibiotic treatment.
To investigate different aspects of the effects of plasma on bacteria and eukaryotic cell membranes, we use different techniques/models such as:
- Liposomes (Small, Large and Giant Unilamellar Vesicles) as simple membrane models to investigate the effects of plasma on biophysical membrane properties like lipid membrane dynamics, permeability or diffusion of reactive molecules through the membrane.
- Proteoliposomes containing model peptides to investigate the effect of plasma on membrane inserted proteins
- Cell culture (Bacteria and Eukaryotic cells)
- High performance liquid chromatography (LC-MS), Gas Chromatography (GC) and High performance thin layer chromatography (HPTLC) to determine changes in the lipidomes and oxidation products in model or biological membranes
- Advanced microscopy (confocal, superresolution microscopy, cryo-TEM) to investigate direct effects of plasma on cells or membranes
- Fluorescence spectroscopy of probes which sense biophysical membrane properties
- Molecular biology (western blots, PCR) to pinpoint molecular targets of plasma in the cells
- Bioinformatic approaches (python, matlab, R) to investigate which proteins could be more susceptible to oxidation