Notre Dame physicists investigate plasma tool for destroying cancer cells

Author: Marissa Gebhard and Gene Stowe


Notre Dame physicists investigate plasma tool for destroying cancer cells

Notre Dame researchers led by Sylwia Ptasinska, assistant professor of physics, have observed significant DNA damage in cancer cells irradiated by atmospheric pressure plasma, a new radiation source. They have recently published their research in the European Physical Journal D in an article titled, “Plasmid DNA damage induced by Helium Atmospheric Pressure Plasma Jet.”

Ptasinska said work is a follow-up to research last year on using plasmas to irradiate cancer cells in general. This study focused specifically on DNA in the cell. “The cell is a quite complicated system,” she said. “Our next step was just to focus on the isolated DNA molecule. We’ve isolated DNA to understand the exact mechanics by which plasma is involved in damage. We could observe different types of DNA damage,” including single-string and double-string breaks. “If we increase damage to DNA, we can more efficiently kill that tumor.”

Ongoing research by the group, in collaboration with the Harper Cancer Research Institute, suggests that the irradiation does not damage DNA in healthy cells as it does in cancer cells, a promising sign that it could be used to target the disease. Other applications of the technology could include dental care, skin diseases, chronic wounds and cosmetic treatment such as teeth whitening. Because the irradiation does not penetrate material more than a few micrometers of body tissue, it can be used only on surface cancers such as oral cancer or skin cancer. Researchers are investing other methods for delivering the plasma to treat other cancers.

Xu Han, William Cantrell, and Erika Escobar co-authored the report with Sylwia Ptasinska. The editors of the journal selected their paper for a highlight.