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Towards a fundamental understanding of plasma for cancer treatment: In vitro/In vivo and molecular dynamics study

Jan 29, 2019

Content of Research

Non-thermal plasma is gaining interest in recent years for cancer treatment. The underlying mechanisms are, however, not fully understood. Therefore, in this project I will study the interaction of plasma with cancer cells in vitro, and also perform computer simulations. The experiments will be carried out with a plasma jet, operating in helium with some oxygen and/or nitrogen, at different conditions. The plasma is created between two electrodes, but due to the gas flow, it is blown out of the discharge region and can reach the cancer cells to be treated, located at a distance of several mm. After plasma treatment, I will analyze the cell viability, cell morphology and change in cellular membrane integrity, as well as the expression levels of apoptosis related genes.
In parallel I will perform molecular dynamics simulations at two different levels. First, I will study the plasma chemistry at the different conditions used experimentally, by zero-dimensional reaction kinetics modeling, to reveal the most important (biochemically active) plasma species formed in each case. Second, I will apply united-atom non-reactive molecular dynamics simulations to study the important mechanism of phosphatidylserine flipflop in the cell membrane, known as signal for apoptosis (i.e., programmed cell death) of cancer cells. These simulations will give a better insight in the underlying mechanisms of plasma for cancer treatment, and will thus support the experimental work.
In this project I will study the interaction of plasma with biomolecules, both experimentally (in cancer cells) and
 in silico. I will use an experimental plasma jet setup. The computational part includes modeling the reaction kinetics in the plasma, as well as atomic scale non-reactive molecular dynamics simulations. The aim of this research is to obtain a better insight in the fundamental mechanisms behind the use of plasma for cancer cell death. The project makes use of biochemical characterization techniques, so it is somewhat interdisciplinary, but it fits best in this project, where “plasma” is explicitly mentioned in the scopes.


In spite of the major progress made in the medical world to treat cancer, the existing therapies suffer from a lack of selectivity, and some cancers even show resistance to the existing therapies. Plasma treatment is gaining increasing interest, because it is stated to selectively treat cancer cells,and no resistance against plasma treatment has been observed yet. Most studies are still in vitro and in vivo, but there have been also a few clinical trials already. However, I believe that to make majorprogress in the field, the fundamental mechanisms need to be better understood, which is indeed the aim of this project. Specifically the combination of experiments and computational simulations israther unique, and I hope that this project can have a great impact to the field.

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