Cold plasma successful against brain cancer cells

May 23, 2013, Max Planck Society
MRT scan of a patient’s head. The tumour is clearly visible in the left part of the brain. Credit: Abt. Neuroradiologie, Klinikum Rechts der Isar, München

For the first time, physicists from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), biologists and physicians demonstrated the synergistic effect of cold atmospheric plasma - a partly ionized gas - and chemo therapy on aggressive brain tumour cells. Laboratory tests showed that the proliferation of glioblastoma cells – the most common and aggressive brain tumour in adults – is arrested and that even resistant cell populations become sensitive to treatment with chemo therapy if pre-treated with cold atmospheric plasma. This could be the first step on the way to a new combination therapy, providing new hope for fighting this lethal cancer.

If someone is diagnosed with the type of called glioblastoma, the prospects are dire: median survival is just a bit over one year, and less than 16 % of the patients survive more than three years. It is still unknown how this cancer is triggered – only a few rare have been identified so far – and treatment remains largely palliative, i.e. trying to alleviate the symptoms and prolonging the life of the patient. The standard therapy proceeds in three steps: Guided by an MRT scan, the tumour is removed surgically, followed by radiation and chemo therapy. But even if the treatment is successful initially, there is a high likelihood of relapse.

A recently developed new kind of treatment could offer some hope. Cold atmospheric plasma, or CAP for short, has already proven to successfully inactivate bacteria, fungi, viruses and , while healthy tissue remains largely unaffected. Healthcare applications such as the of , skin and wound disinfection paved its way into medical care. Recently also CAP sources were developed which show anti-cancer properties.

The CAP device used to treat the cancer cells in the laboratory. Due to an electrical discharge a fraction of the air in the device is ionised leading to a reactive mix of electrons, ions, neutral atoms and molecules, reactive species and UV light. Credit: MPE

"For many patients the regular treatment is just not effective, because the brain tumours contain sub-populations for which chemo therapy does not work," says Julia Zimmermann, who manages the Plasma Healthcare group at MPE. "So we were particularly interested to see if the CAP would be effective against these resistant tumour cells – and indeed it worked!"

For the study, the researchers used Glioblastoma cells and grew them in cell culture dishes, where they could be subjected to various combinations of treatments. For both normal and resistant tumour cell lines, the growth of the cells was more inhibited after the plasma treatment compared to the chemo therapy alone. The largest effect could be obtained for a short application time of 120 seconds; such an additional step could be easily incorporated into the clinical treatment if an appropriate plasma device can be developed.

Cell culture dishes with tumour cells, which were treated with CAP. From left: control dish (no treatment), 30 seconds, 60 seconds and 120 seconds application of CAP. Credit: MPE

The researchers also found that CAP stops the cell cycle and that the individual cells lose their ability to clone themselves. A combined therapy of both - CAP treatment and chemo therapy – showed the most promising results, where the amount of chemotherapeutic needed to achieve the same result as with chemo therapy alone is strongly reduced. So far, no resistance towards CAP treatment was observed. The study also showed that even those cell lines that originally were resistant against the chemo therapy drug became sensitive again after the pre-application of CAP.

"In particular, also resistant could be treated effectively with CAP, which means that there is now hope to find a therapy for the patients with a poor prognosis, i.e. those with resistant cells in the tumour," explains Julia Köritzer, lead author of the study. Such a treatment option for resistant cells is urgently needed, because about 40 % of the patients do not profit from chemo therapy. She adds: "It is a first step, now we have to further investigate the effects gained in the cell culture and integrate them for the application."

Though, even if there is still a long way ahead before CAP can actually be used in the hospital, it offers a promising new possibility. Eventually it could be applied after surgery to treat the tissue around the extracted tumour, where some cancerous cells might have been left behind, preventing the cancer from reappearing. Devices similar to an endoscope are currently under development.

Explore further: New therapy holds promise for aggressive breast cancers

More information: Koritzer, J. et al. Restoration of Sensitivity in Chemo - Resistant Glioma Cells by Cold Atmospheric Plasma, PLOS ONE, 21 May 2013.

Related Stories

New therapy holds promise for aggressive breast cancers

April 16, 2013
Australian researchers have developed a new therapy to treat a common and aggressive form of breast cancer and stop the disease spreading, with a 100% success rate reported in mice.

Chemo, radiation followed by surgery improves survival in lung cancer patients

April 30, 2013
In one of the largest observational studies of its kind, researchers report that a combination of chemotherapy and radiation followed by surgery in patients with stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer improves survival.

Scientist discovers new target for cancer therapy

January 24, 2013
Tumour cells need far more nutrients than normal cells and these nutrients cannot get into the malignant cells without transporters.

Poliovirus vaccine trial shows early promise for recurrent glioblastoma

May 21, 2013
An attack on glioblastoma brain tumor cells that uses a modified poliovirus is showing encouraging results in an early study to establish the proper dose level, researchers at Duke Cancer Institute report.

Immune therapy shows early promise for advanced leukemia

March 20, 2013
(HealthDay)—An experimental therapy that targets the immune system might offer a new way to treat an often deadly form of adult leukemia, a preliminary study suggests.

Scientists make brain tumours glow

April 24, 2013
Stereotactic needle biopsies are an established standard procedure in the diagnostic identification of brain lymphomas and certain brain tumours (gliomas). Up until now the tissue samples removed had to be examined for tumour ...

Recommended for you

Researchers identify new treatment target for melanoma

January 16, 2018
Researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have identified a new therapeutic target for the treatment of melanoma. For decades, research has associated female sex and a history of previous ...

More evidence of link between severe gum disease and cancer risk

January 16, 2018
Data collected during a long-term health study provides additional evidence for a link between increased risk of cancer in individuals with advanced gum disease, according to a new collaborative study led by epidemiologists ...

Researchers develop a remote-controlled cancer immunotherapy system

January 15, 2018
A team of researchers has developed an ultrasound-based system that can non-invasively and remotely control genetic processes in live immune T cells so that they recognize and kill cancer cells.

Pancreatic tumors may require a one-two-three punch

January 15, 2018
One of the many difficult things about pancreatic cancer is that tumors are resistant to most treatments because of their unique density and cell composition. However, in a new Wilmot Cancer Institute study, scientists discovered ...

New immunotherapy approach boosts body's ability to destroy cancer cells

January 12, 2018
Few cancer treatments are generating more excitement these days than immunotherapy—drugs based on the principle that the immune system can be harnessed to detect and kill cancer cells, much in the same way that it goes ...

Cancer's gene-determined 'immune landscape' dictates progression of prostate tumors

January 12, 2018
The field of immunotherapy - the harnessing of patients' own immune systems to fend off cancer - is revolutionizing cancer treatment today. However, clinical trials often show marked improvements in only small subsets of ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 23, 2013
i lost my father to this type of cancer last year. i like to thank you for all others with love ones fitting with cancer. my father also will be happy to know that others may one day be free of pain he went through. Let's keep our life worth living.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.