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Plasma-based treatment goes viral
05 December 2011
Institute of Physics (IOP)
Life-threatening viruses such as HIV, SARS, hepatitis and influenza, could
soon be combatted in an unusual manner as researchers have demonstrated
the effectiveness of plasma for inactivating and preventing the
replication of adenoviruses.
When exposed to plasma ? the fourth state of matter in addition to solids,
liquids and gases ? for a period of just 240 seconds, it was found that
only one in a million viruses could still replicate ? practically all were
The study, published in IOP Publishing?s Journal of Physics D: Applied
Physics, is one of the first to concentrate specifically on viruses and
builds on research that has already shown the usefulness of plasma in
eradicating bacteria from skin (
http://www.iop.org/news/09/november/page_42357.html) and sterilising water
Within a hospital environment, a plasma generating device could
realistically rid hands of potentially lethal viruses that relay on a host
organism to replicate and spread. In the long-term, plasma could be
inhaled directly to treat viruses in the lungs, or applied to blood
outside of the body to remove any viruses before transfusion.
The researchers, from the Max-Planck Institut für extraterrestrische
Physik and Technische Universität München, specifically chose adenoviruses
to examine as they are one of the most difficult viruses to inactivate.
Illnesses resulting from this specific virus, for example, can only be
managed by treating symptoms and complications of the infection, rather
than targeting the actual virus itself.
Adenoviruses predominantly cause respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia
and bronchitis and are hard to inactivate as the whole virus is encased in
a protein layer, helping it to remain physically stable and tolerate
moderate increases in heat and pH.
In this study, the adenoviruses were diluted to specific concentrations
and then exposed to plasma for 240 seconds, before being incubated for an
hour. A control group of adenoviruses were given the exact same treatment
apart from the plasma exposure.
Two separate cell lines were then infected with the two sets of
adenoviruses: the ones that were treated with plasma and the control
group. To test whether a cell had the virus or not, the researchers
programmed the virus to produce a protein that fluoresced green when a
specific type of light was shone onto it.
Whilst the exact mechanisms behind the plasma?s impressive effects are
relatively unknown, it is thought that they are a result of a combination
of reactions between the plasma and surrounding air, which create similar
species to the ones found in our own immune system when under microbial
From Wednesday 30 November, this paper can be downloaded from