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New Technique Could Kill Hospital ‘Superbugs’

Cold plasma jet penetrates bacterial biofilms (Oct. 3)

According to an October 3 announcement, scientists at Queen’s University Belfast in Ireland have developed a new technique that has the potential to kill off hospital “superbugs,” such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Clostridium difficile, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

As described in the journal PloS One, the novel method uses a cold plasma jet to rapidly penetrate dense bacterial structures known as biofilms, which bind bacteria together and make them resistant to conventional chemical approaches to eradication.

The new technique passes electrical currents through flowing gas mixtures to create a variety of reactive species. These species then effectively penetrate biofilms of P. aeruginosa and MRSA and rapidly kill the bacteria within.

“These cold plasmas could be used widely in hospitals, in surgeries, and in the community as hand-held devices for rapid decontamination of surfaces, including the skin, or they can be incorporated into bigger devices for decontamination of larger areas,” said Dr. Brendan Gilmore. “Their ability to rapidly decontaminate surfaces has the potential to curb the spread of harmful bacteria, including multidrug-resistant bacteria, such as MRSA.”

Currently, antibiotics and disinfectants are used to target bugs in hospitals. Effective in killing individual bacteria, they are often ineffective against complex, organized communities of bacteria, according to the researchers. Bacteria growing in communities are often 1,000 times more tolerant of antimicrobial agents, such as antibiotics and disinfectants, compared with free-floating bacteria.

For more information, visit the Queen’s University Belfast Web site.

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