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What is Plasma Medicine? Ask Mounir Laroussi at ODU

The high-energy "soups" called plasmas that can create television pictures and light up neon signs also have been shown to have numerous medical applications, and one of the world's leading researchers in plasma medicine is Mounir Laroussi at Old Dominion University.

When the United States-based Coalition for Plasma Science sought last year to add a primer on plasma medicine to its educational website (http://www.plasmacoalition.org/publications.htm), the organization tapped Laroussi to write it. The layman-friendly explanation of research in this new field was posted on the website this week.

Laroussi is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at ODU and director of the university's Laser and Plasma Engineering Institute (LPEI).

His contribution to the coalition website describes plasmas in general, explaining why they are called the fourth state of matter (with solids, liquids and gases being the other three). Laroussi focuses on the medical applications of cold plasmas, which are also called atmospheric-pressure or low-temperature plasmas. Cold plasmas can kill bacteria cells, but do not cause serious damage to plant and animal tissue.

"In the last decade, research on the use of low-temperature plasmas in medicine have intensified, and today plasmas are poised to dramatically affect healthcare," Laroussi writes in the primer. "Reseachers have discovered ways that plasmas can be applied directly to living tissues to deactivate pathogens; to stop bleeding without damaging healthy tissue; to disinfect wounds and accelerate wound healing; and to selectively kill some types of cancer cells."

He also explains other uses of cold plasmas in sterilization of surgical instruments and other medical devices, and in treatments to fight dental plaque and tooth decay.

Laroussi was in France and Germany last fall to present his work on plasma medicine at several conferences and institutions. At the International Conference on Plasma Medicine in Germany, he and Gayle McCombs, an ODU associate professor of dental hygiene, presented research they have done on dental applications of cold plasma.

Other collaborators in the cold plasma-dental therapies work are Michele Darby, chair, professor and eminent scholar, School of Dental Hygiene, and Wayne Hynes, professor and interim chair, Department of Biological Sciences.

Also at the International Conference on Plasma Medicine, Laroussi was one of three researchers worldwide to receive the inaugural International Society of Plasma Medicine Award.

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