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AIP Website Features Laroussi Plasma-Leukemia Research

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) is featuring the cold plasma research of Old Dominion University electrical engineer Mounir Laroussi on the home page of its website (aip.org). A blurb on the website refers readers to an Inside Science article about new findings showing that Laroussi's cold plasma pencil - which produces a room-temperature plume - can kill leukemia cells.

"We have a really amazing device," Laroussi says in the Inside Science article, which originally appeared Nov. 29 and is headlined "Leukemia Killing Plasma Beam Could Offer New Cancer Treatments: A Low-temperature 'Plasma Blowtorch' Triggers Death of Diseased Cells."

Laroussi, who is director of the Laser and Plasma Engineering Institute at ODU, adds in the article: "We can generate a beam of plasma that is around room temperature. It doesn't burn anything; it doesn't destroy or poke holes. You can touch it with your hand."

After 10 minutes of treatment with the cold plasma pencil, more than 90 percent of leukemia cells were destroyed, according to a study published by Laroussi and research scientist Nazir Barekzi in October in the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics.

Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer and is responsible for almost one-third of all cancer-related deaths in children, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Currently, leukemia survivors can lead healthy lives but long-term side effects of the treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy and bone marrow transplants, remain serious, according to Laroussi.

Cold plasma is made from near room-temperature nontoxic gases and is not believed to have negative long-term side effects.

The plasma pencil, a miniature light saber that Laroussi created more than five years ago, has been featured in a broad array of popular media, including National Geographic, as well as professional publications. The articles have noted the germ-killing applications, and the ease of use, of the plasma pencil. In the past few years, the ODU professor of electrical and computer engineering has collaborated with life scientists at the university to study the way the so-called plasma that shoots from his hand-held pencil can kill diseased cells and bacteria.

Recently, Laroussi and Barekzi, a research scientist with Laroussi's institute, began focusing on leukemia cells. The researchers found that the morphology and viability of human T-cell leukemia cells were affected in a dose-dependent manner after treatment with low-temperature atmospheric pressure plasma pulses fired from the plasma pencil. The leukemia cells were treated in vitro in a tissue culture plate.

Laroussi has cautioned that the investigations are preliminary, but he said he believes the results hold promise as a component of a leukemia treatment.

"First, let me say that we are not at the stage where we can apply our plasma as a therapy for leukemia, or any other cancer," he said in an interview in October. "At the present time we are doing fundamental scientific studies to evaluate the effects of low-temperature plasma on cancer cells. So far we have killed with some degree of success metastatic prostate cancer from a site in the brain, and leukemia cells."

What sort of treatment application might he envision from results showing that leukemia cells can be killed outside of the body by the low-temperature plasma?

"I was asked the same question by a reporter from MedicalPhysicsWeb," Laroussi said. "Here is my answer: 'Leukemia results from an overabundance of white blood cells. Controlling the number of white cells by killing them would restore the balance in the blood and could be a partial solution to a cure. This could be conceived in a similar way to a dialysis machine where blood could be subjected to plasma outside of the body. Killing cancerous white blood cells, however, may not be enough, as it does not deal with the root of the problem. Plasma could be conceived as part of a larger solution that involves treatment of bone marrow, for example.'"

Laroussi's specialty is the plasma that can be created in regular atmospheric conditions and can be used - in dental or wound-healing treatments, for example - without burning normal human tissue. Conventional plasma, like that present in lightning and in television sets, is created in the absence of atmospheric pressure and is radically hot.

Both plasmas have been shown to kill germs, but the low-temperature version has gotten more attention for biomedical applications because it is safer and easier to use.

The plasma pencil, which is about the size of an electric toothbrush, used helium gas as a medium for the plasma created in the leukemia cell studies. Results indicate that high doses of low-temperature plasma prevent leukemia cell proliferation and are able to induce cell death. In addition, the results indicate that low doses of this plasma have a delayed, but statistically significant, killing effect on leukemia cells.