By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent, telegraph.co.uk.
Plasma could cure the common cold
Inhaling streams of electrically charged gas could provide a cure for the common cold, research has shown.
8:15AM GMT 04 Dec 2011
Scientists have discovered that a stream of matter known as cold plasma can deactivate viruses similar to those that cause the common cold.
When exposed the plasma – a stream of ionised gas – for just a couple of minutes, the viruses were no longer able to replicate, meaning they could not spread or cause disease.
It has led to hopes that cold plasma devices could be used as hand sanitisers in hospitals and even provide a new way of treating the common cold and other respiratory viruses such as flu.
The researchers behind the project believe cold plasma could even be used to prevent viruses such as HIV from being spread in blood transfusions.
Dr Julia Zimmermann, from the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, found that when exposed to cold plasma for 240 seconds, almost all the viruses were inactivated – just one in a million viruses was able to replicate.
She said: "Cold plasmas are potentially a very effective agent for control of viral infections.
"There are hopes that cold plasmas can become an effective tool in hospital hygiene."
The researchers are already working on developing the technique to treat respiratory infections and have received approval to test the device in animal models.
They believe that, in the long term, plasma could be inhaled directly into the lungs to treat viruses. Illnesses such as the common cold are difficult to treat and patients have to rely on their immune systems to fight off the infections.
Previous research has also shown that cold plasmas are effective at killing bacteria and can be used to sterilise water for up to seven days.
The latest research, which is published in the Institute of Physic's Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, suggests that the plasmas damage the proteins and DNA that make up viruses.
Plasma is a fourth state of matter in addition to solid, liquid and gases, and is created when particles of gas or liquid become electrically charged.
It is similar to the kind of material found inside decorative plasma balls and plasma televisions.
Usually very high temperatures are needed to sustain plasmas, but scientists have recently found they can create cold plasmas at temperatures of around 104 degrees F (40C), which can be safely touched by the human hand.
In the new research the scientists exposed tissue infected with adenoviruses, a group of viruses those that cause the common cold, to jets of cold plasma.
The viruses were almost entirely inactivated by the treatment, the researchers found.
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