Star Trek is often credited with inspiring real-life technologies, from wireless gadgets to video conferences. Now, a German company called Coldplasmatech has pioneered a “PlasmaPatch” which, much like Star Trek’s “dermal regenerator,” is designed to disinfect and heal wounds.
The device leverages the properties of plasma, the least familiar state of matter to humans, which is normally found in high-energy environments such as stars. Plasma can also be artificially generated at lower temperatures by applying electrical currents to a gas or liquid insulator.
The “cold plasma” patches developed by Coldplasmatech are made of silicone, and use the ions and UV radiation emitted by the material to treat infections in chronic wounds while simultaneously accelerating the healing process.
“This ionized gas is bioactive so it leads to, on one hand, killing of bacteria, and on the other hand, activating cells by putting them under stress,” Carsten Mahrenholz, founder and CEO of Coldplasmatech, told me over Skype. That leads to “the secretion of [cytokine] messengers, cell proliferation, cell migration, and so on,” he added.
The bacterial infections that can develop on chronic wounds—bed sores, burns, or diabetes-related skin damage, for instance—are normally treated with antibiotics. Scientists have long warned that these methods breed superbugs that have become resistant to traditional drugs. Using cold plasma patches skirts this problem, but the downside is that the patches can only be used for external infections.
“What we can do is local treatment on wounds directly,” Mahrenholz said. “You have the problem and the benefit that antibiotics are systemic treatments—you take the pill and everything is flushed with antibiotics. However, often when you have wounds or when you do surgery, you have the problem that it gets infected locally and then the bug goes from there to the system.”
Once the infection has spread internally, he said, antibiotics would be needed to fight it. But for the tens of millions of people worldwide who suffer from skin-deep chronic wounds, cold plasma could be a safer and more comfortable option. Unlike antibiotics, which are sometimes administered over a period of weeks, the patch kills infections in minutes. Cold plasma also doesn’t produce the same annoying side effects that antibiotics do, like allergic reactions, vomiting, or diarrhea.
“Antibiotics give you the shits, and plasma is the shit,” Mahrenholz quipped.
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These diarrhea-averting, wound-healing applications of cold plasma have been recognized in medicine for years, and it has already been adopted as a handy sterilizing agent for surgical equipment. But the small patches and “PlasmaCubes” (power generators) developed by Coldplasmatech represent the first time that plasma’s wound care powers would be broadly accessible to patients.
The company has already had success in clinical trials, and is currently trying to get a license for its technologies. They plan to eventually sell the patches to hospitals, pharmacies, and directly to patients around the world. A specific price range for cold plasma patches hasn't been determined yet, but Mahrenholz estimates it would be five times cheaper than current treatments
“Hopefully—we’ll try our best—this innovation makes cold plasma available to any patient,” Mahrenholz said.
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