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Low-temperature Plasmas for Cancer Treatment

Contact: Deborah O'Connell, York Plasma Institute

Collaboration: Dr Fiona Frame & Prof Norman Maitland, YCR Cancer Research Unit, Department of Biology


Low-temperature plasma (LTP) treatment of cancer cells have been explored for a variety of malignancies. These plasmas, operated at atmospheric pressure and room temperature, are efficient sources of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS), among other components, and can induce various biological responses. By examining and understanding how cells respond to treatment, we are investigating how LTPs could be a potential cancer therapy.

We are employing not only purified tumour cells freshly extracted from prostate cancer patients, but also matching, non-tumour cells from a distant region of the same prostate. Freshly isolated primary tumour cells act as a near patient model, which has recently confirmed differences in pharmacological susceptibility as compared with established cell lines. Our results have shown that treatment of primary prostate epithelial cells with LTP resulted in massive cell death in both normal and cancer cells. 

Cancer stem cells, 226 pixels

We also examine the influence of LTP on prostate cancer stem-like cells. Cancer stem cells (CSCs), a small sub-population of the tumor cells, have been proposed to be the root of both disease initiation and recurrence. They have been widely implicated in both radio- and chemo-resistance. Overloading CSCs with an abundance of RONS generated by LTPs may overcome this protective shield. The figure on the right shows high levels of DNA damage, irrespective of the cellular sub-population, following LTP jet treatment [Hirst et al., Tumour Biology (2016)]. This demonstrates the potential of LTP to induce highly significant cytotoxic effects in cells thought to be a causal factor in treatment resistance and relapse.‌

Associated Publications

Low-temperature plasma treatment induces DNA damage leading to necrotic cell death in primary prostate epithelial cells
A. M. Hirst, M. S. Simms, V. M. Mann, N. J. Maitland, D. O'Connell, F. M. Frame
British Journal of Cancer 112, 1536 (2015)

Low temperature plasmas as emerging cancer therapeutics: The state of play and thoughts for the future
A. M. Hirst, F. M. Frame, M. Arya, N. J. Maitland, D. O'Connell
Tumour biology (2016)

Interactions of a non-thermal atmospheric pressure plasma effluent with PC-3 prostate cancer cells
A. R. Gibson H. O. McCarthy, A. A. Ali D. O'Connell and W. G. Graham
Plasma Processes Polym. 11, 1142-1149, 2014

Low Temperature Plasma Causes Double-Strand Break DNA Damage in Primary Epithelial Cells Cultured from a Human Prostate Tumour
Special Issue on Images in Plasma Science, IEEE Trans. Plasma Sci, 2014
Hirst, A. M., Frame, F. M., Maitland, N. J., O'Connell, D.

Low Temperature Plasma: A Novel Focal Therapy for Localized Prostate Cancer?
Adam M. Hirst, Fiona M. Frame, Norman J. Maitland, and Deborah O’Connell
BioMed Research International Volume 2014, Article ID 878319 (2014)