Dr. Magesh Thiyagarajan, Director of the Plasma Engineering Research Lab and an Assistant Professor of Engineering at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and his research team found a way to effectively kill leukemia cells by treating them with “cold plasma.” It is a treatment that would not only prolong lives, it could also be less traumatic to cancer patients than current treatments.
Dr. Thiyagarajan, who directs an interdisciplinary research team comprised of research scientists, post-doctoral research associates, graduate and undergraduate students, believes there is a “ray of light” in the future of cancer treatment; literally.
Traditional plasma is made by heating up gas molecules to form what looks like a colored ray of light. We see it every day in plasma televisions and fluorescent lights. Published in a new study in Wiley’s high-impact Biotechnology And Bioengineering journal, Dr. Thiyagarajan explains that his research team has developed a way to make this happen without using the harmful heat and he says when he directs that ray of light called “cold plasma” at cancer cells, what happens is incredible.
“Within 24 hours, we began to see the destruction of over 90 percent of the cancer cells,” Dr. Thiyagarajan observes in a TAMUCC release. “Cold plasma induces the cancer cells to self-destruct, but it can leave the healthy cells unharmed.”
The Biotechnology And Bioengineering article, entitled: “Induction of apoptosis in human myeloid leukemia cells by remote exposure of resistive barrier cold plasma” (Biotechnol. Bioeng.. doi: 10.1002/bit.25114), co-authored by Dr. Thiyagarajan with Heather Anderson and Xavier F. Gonzales, notes that cold atmospheric plasma (CAP), an ambient temperature ionized gas, is gaining extensive interest as a promising addition to anti-tumor therapy primarily due to the ability to generate and control delivery of electrons, ions, excited molecules, UV photons, and reactive species such as reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) to a specific site. The aim of this work is to assess the cell death response of human myeloid leukemia cells by remote exposure to CAP generated RNS by utilizing a novel resistive barrier discharge system that primarily produces RNS.
Dr. Thiyagarajan says the key reason healthy cells may not be affected during this process is due to the reactive species produced by the cold plasma also being a natural byproduct of a cell’s own metabolic processes. “The cold plasma forces those cancer cells to self-destruct in a rage of apoptosis,” he says. “In contrast, the healthy cells are unharmed due to their lower levels of reactive species to begin with.”
Dr. Thiyagarajan’s lab conducts research on wide range of projects which range from laser induced plasmas and optical diagnostics, materials processing, cold plasma induced cancer treatment and cold plasma induced enhanced wound healing and bacterial sterilization for food safety. These research projects will have a direct impact on the betterment of the society, particularly Corpus Christi. Dr. Thiyagarajan has received research grant awards, including the $700,000 by Department of Defense to develop a portable plasma medical device for soldiers.
Each year, nearly 11 million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer and experts say, because of increasing populations, the cancer rate is rising. Dr. Thiyagarajan says that leukemia is the hardest to kill and that there is a tremendous need for better and more efficient leukemia treatment methods.
Cancer cells can be killed in two different ways, apoptosis or necrosis. Dr. Thiyagarajan says apoptosis is a natural and beneficial process that involves a series of biochemical events leading up to the cell’s death. Necrosis is caused by external factors such as infection, toxins, or trauma. When Dr. Thiyagarajan treated cancer cells with cold plasma he discovered that it could induce either or both apoptosis and/or necrosis depending on how he fine-tuned the cold plasma device.
In most cases apoptotic cancer treatment methods are preferred over necrosis,” says Dr. Thiyagarajan. “An exception is in treatment of tumorous cancers, where necrotic process is also beneficial. Because the patients suffer through the long-term side effects such as hair loss, memory impairment and nerve damage from current treatments, the demonstration of cold plasma as a highly potential cancer treatment is a significant breakthrough at many levels. He also maintains that this treatment will most likely transfer to other types of cancer with similar results. Further testing is needed before this can be tried on humans but Thiyagarajan says with additional funding, it could be available for clinical trials in as soon as three to five years.
Dr. Magesh Thiyagarajan moved to the Island University in summer 2009 as the director of the Plasma Engineering Research Lab (PERL) and assistant professor of engineering. Earlier he was a lead engineer for the General Electric Company stationed in Albany, N.Y. He is a University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate. Since his arrival he has focused on developing a state-of-the-art research program on campus in the field of plasma science and engineering. In fall 2010, Dr. Thiyagarajan was awarded a $700,000 research grant from the U.S. Department of Defense for pursuing research and develop novel portable atmospheric cold plasma technologies that can potentially be used in bio-medical applications including skin cancer treatment. This cold plasma technology research can open multiple avenues for a wide range of other potential civilian and combat care bio-medical applications such as hemorrhage control, wounds healing, infection treatment, dermatology, surgical sterilization, drug delivery and food processing.
Dr. Thiyagarajan collaborates with regional industries on research projects through the Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center. His goal is to “Imagine, Innovate and Inspire” students to pursue science and engineering fields as a faculty mentor for McNair Scholars program and the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program. Dr. Thiyagarajan initiated and serves as a faculty advisor for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers student chapter. He organized the annual Coastal Bend Engineering Competition in spring 2010, which provides junior high and high school students opportunities to learn, build and compete and work with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi mechanical engineering students. During the event, organized as a step toward South Texas Engineering Alliance competition, students construct catapults from assorted items. Thiyagarajan has published peer-reviewed articles in national and international journals. He is a six-sigma green belt holder and former CEO of an award-winning technology startup company.
Dr. Thiyagarajan has published 2 books, several peer-reviewed top-ranking journal articles and over 50 conference publications originated from his current position at TAMUCC. He serves in several regional and statewide organizations such as Texas Governor Rick Perry Emerging Technology Fund, NASA Texas Space Grant Consortium, South Texas Engineering Alliance Consortium, Del Mar College Engineering Advisory Board and he also serves in student centered programs such as LSAMP, McNair, and Innovation Academy. Dr. Thiyagarajan is a recipient of several awards, including the University of Tennessee Knoxville Citation Award for professional promise, the IEEE Fellowship Award, the University of Madras Gold Medalist Award, and Wisconsin Governor’s and Texas Coastal Bend Best Technology Business Awards.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi is the only University in the nation located on its own island. With palm trees lining pathways throughout the 240–acre campus, nearby natural wetlands and a pristine beach, TAMUCC is the Corpus Christi area’s premier institution of higher learning, enrolling more than 10,000 students, and is part of The Texas A&M University System. Texas A&M Corpus Christi has provided a solid academic reputation, renowned faculty, and highly rated degree programs since 1947. The Island University has earned its spot as a premier doctoral-granting institution, supporting two research institutes and 10 research centers and labs. For more information, visit:
The TAMUCC College of Science and Engineering is in the race for discovery with research programs such as the premier Geographic Information Science (GIS) program in the country through the College’s Conrad Blucher Institute, the innovative Plasma Engineering Research Lab, and a nationally certified Computer Science program. As one of the foremost institutions for coastal, marine and environmental research, the College offers two doctoral degrees in these areas and is also home to the Center for Coastal Studies. Students and faculty in the College are affiliated with the University’s Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.
Texas A&M University Corpus Christi
Biotechnol. Bioeng.. doi: 10.1002/bit.25114
Texas A&M University Corpus Christi