The cradle of plasma medicine, 20 years later

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Suresh Joshi, PhD, MD, left, and Alexander Fridman, PhD, at the Drexel Plasma Institute in January 2022. Photo courtesy of Suresh Joshi.


In 2022, Drexel University C. & J. Nyheim Plasma Institute (NPI) celebrates 20 years not only as a multidisciplinary research and teaching institute at the University, but as a beacon and international birthplace of plasma medicine. In this branch of plasma biomedical engineering, plasma, the fourth state of matter in which neutral atoms and molecules are somewhat transformed into charged particles like electrons and ions, is used in various ways for medical applications, engineering and environmental sciences, from disease prevention and treatment to regenerative medicine to water disinfection to air cleaning. Plasma medicine is an emerging branch that integrates basic sciences and engineering with biomedical sciences, medicine and public health.

Suresh Joshi, MD, PhD, has been involved with the NPI since 2008 and is the director of the NPI Center for Plasma in Health & Biomedical Engineering. A professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science, and Health Systems and NPI, and assistant professor in the College of Medicine, Joshi has written the following article on the history of the institute and highlights from the past two decades.

The Nyheim Plasma Institute at Drexel University is actually the birthplace of plasma medicine. This year, it celebrates 20 years since its creation at Drexel University. Originally founded in 2002 as the AJ Drexel Plasma Institute (DPI), it has gone through a roller coaster ride like any other traditional academic research institute, but is still doing consistently progressive research and innovation over the of all these years. In 2016, Drexel Plasma Institute was renamed “The C&J Nyheim Plasma Institute” (NPI) in honor of the generous gift of Christel and John Nyheim and their family to DPI and their support as passionate advocates of plasma science and engineering.

Since its inception, NPI’s founding director, Alexander Fridman, PhD, who is the John A. Nyheim Professor at the College of Engineering, and his team of researchers and faculty from all disciplines have successfully curated a portfolio of awesome research. Today, the Plasma Institute at Drexel University is the largest plasma research institution in the United States of America in an academic configuration. More than 25 international, global, and US patents have been generated by research at Drexel University by NPI, and many of Drexel’s patented plasma-based technologies are translated from field trials to commercialization phases. More than 30 Drexel faculty, scientists and staff, as well as numerous alumni, students and associates, have contributed significantly to its growth.

As you can see, the NPI has grown over the years at Drexel and has also expanded the field and capabilities of plasma medicine worldwide. Here are some important points:

In 2003, the idea of ​​plasma medicine at Drexel came to fruition through effective collaborations between faculties, scientists, engineers, and physicians with the then DPI. In 2006, with the help of Drexel University, the Plasma Institute and collaborating departments took a step in a new direction, creating a major research initiative in plasma medicine. This five-year program has helped bring together many renowned faculties, scientists, technologies and physicians (inside and outside of Drexel, as well as international partners).

In 2006–2007, an NPI invention led to the modified floating electrode dielectric barrier discharge (FE-DBD) plasma application technique for healthcare, medicine, and biomedical sciences. The FE-DBD technique is now successfully tested in the field of treatment of wounds, living tissue, skin disinfection and surface sterilization.

From 2008 to 2011, NPI and the Drexel College of Medicine research team led by me and my former colleague Ari Brooks, MD, who was then Associate Professor of Surgery and Chair of the Surgical Oncology Unit at the College of Medicine , have conducted successful research on plasma-treated liquids as potent antimicrobial agents for surface-associated disinfection. During the same period, Jane Azizkhan-Clifford, PhD, who is now Emeritus Professor and Associate Dean for Medical Student Research at the College of Medicine, and her team explored the molecular mechanisms of mammalian cell death and the associated pathways in cellular systems exposed to plasma. During the same period, all of the people mentioned above, and many more, have been instrumental in shifting many research paradigms, including the current Drexel faculties at Drexel Schools and Colleges, as well as external collaborators. They are, I would say, a truly interdisciplinary team of investigators in all pillars of plasma medicine.

In 2009, the International Society of Plasma Medicine (ISPM) was officially launched here with Professor Alexander Fridman as founding president. ISPM meets every two years in different countries and has made substantial progress in the field of plasma medicine. This summer, the 9and International Conference on Plasma Medicine (ICPM9) meets at Jaarbeurs in Utrecht, the Netherlands. These conferences have been instrumental in networking many of the world’s leading plasma scientists, biologists, technologists and healthcare professionals, and have progressed wonderfully through collaborations.

From 2011 to 2014, a team of NPI researchers, led by me, demonstrated for the first time the bacterial biofilm inhibiting properties of plasma-activated solutions. During the same period, our research team demonstrated in vitro how plasma-treated material enhances wound healing in established wound models (in vitro), and subsequently studied rapid pathogen inactivation. multidrug-resistant (MDR) wounds by plasma-alginate dressing. At the 2012 American Society for Microbiology (ASM) International Meeting, my team and I presented research on the plasma-activated alginate dressing that has the ability to not only inactivate multidrug-resistant pathogens, but also to disinfect wounds and promote healing. A year later, my colleagues at Drexel and I explored the exact underlying mechanisms of inactivation, but Bill Costerton, PhD, a renowned microbial ecologist considered “the father of biofilms,” wasn’t there to see. progress; I wish it had been. (During an interview with ASM, he had emphatically mentioned how amazed he was at the invention of the plasma-alginate dressing and wished to see the underlying mechanisms of pathogen inactivation.)

In 2011-2017, Margaret Wheatley, PhD, John M. Reid Professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Health Sciences and Systems, and I led a team of researchers to demonstrate a successful application of a solution Non-thermal plasma-activated phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) in ultrasound contrast agent (UCA) sterilization. Currently, there is no other technology in the world that can safely sterilize ACU; chemical methods induce some changes in the UCA and are therefore not very suitable for this purpose.

From 2012 to 2013, NPI published another breakthrough, this time demonstrating that plasma-treated solutions not only inactivate biofilm-embedded microbes/pathogens and behave as broad-spectrum microbicides, but also retain their antimicrobial properties for longer. two years at room temperature. This discovery has changed the dynamics of approaches to how plasma-activated solutions can be generated, applied, and stored on the self. Thus, a potentially competent biocidal agent was found comparable to some of the traditional biocides.

In 2014-2017, an NPI team led by Vandana Millar, MD, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the College of Medicine; Fred Krebs, PhD, associate professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology; and Prof. Alexander Fridman demonstrated how non-thermal plasma exposure leads to immune cell activation and investigated the underlying mechanisms. In 2016, our NPI team demonstrated how plasma-charged non-thermal aerosols inactivate airborne bacteria within seconds and investigated the underlying mechanisms of airborne pathogen inactivation. . These experiments confirmed how plasma-based technologies could help keep operating rooms and hospital premises safe, as shown by mechanism-based studies. Thus, all these innovations contribute to the understanding of plasma-based technologies and their preventive and therapeutic approaches.

In December 2021, Professor Alexander Fridman and I were named United States Experts in Plasma Non-Thermal Technologies through the International commission in electrical engineering (IEC) in Geneva, Switzerland. This nomination is based on our expertise and contributions in non-thermal plasma technologies (Prof. Alexander Fridman for non-thermal plasma technologies, and myself for the application of plasma technologies in biology and medicine). This appointment was proposed by Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) through the American National Institute of Standards (ANSI) to IEC. the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and IEC are global organizations for international standards and are composed of technical experts and representatives of various national standards organizations of member countries. This honor has become a wonderful opportunity to look back on some of Drexel’s Plasma Institute’s outstanding accomplishments related to plasma medicine.

At Drexel, I will redirect my efforts and review some of the plasma medicine products such as plasma solutions, plasma lotion and plasma ointment, and plan interdisciplinary and collaborative research to bring these studies to the translational research phase and to the interventional trials. This research will also open the doors to plasma cosmetic science.

Drexel and NPI have several plasma-based products in various stages of development for healthcare applications. By reactivating collaborative plasma medicine research on campus and re-establishing an interdisciplinary team of researchers, we can achieve this success. I hope that one day our plasma products will reach the community, health centers and end users.

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