We are pleased to present Dr. Vandana Miller as ” Scientist of the Week” on The Science and Engineering Cafe. Vandana is a medical doctor with graduate studies in microbiology and immunology. Over the past few years she became involved in the field of Plasma Medicine and was appointed Director of the Plasma Medicine Laboratory at the A.J. Drexel Plasma Institute. Her recent work focuses on the use of dielectric barrier discharges for stem cell treatment and the plasma-stimulated migration of macrophages.
In my personal opinion, medical experts like Dr. Miller are a blessing to the field of Plasma Medicine as they can validate the technology and become instrumental in its transition from the lab scale to actual clinical studies.
Vandana has been invited to give a talk on Plasma activation of immune system for cancer therapy at the 6th International Conference on Plasma Medicine (http://www.icpm6.com).
Enjoy her interview!
1) In your opinion, why has the field of Plasma Medicine attracted a lot of interest in the past decade?
With the rapid advancements in plasma technology, the old science of plasma has been made new with nearly magical impact on how we will think about medicine in the future. What started with plasma treatment of polymers at atmospheric pressure with high level of uniformity, has now evolved into this sophisticated science where we are trying to modify “biopolymers” so the emphasis is also on avoiding toxicity and improving safety of plasma application in live animals and people. The dramatic results in wound healing, applications in dermatology (acne, melanoma) and cosmetology (aesthetic restructuring) are just a few examples. The complex interactions between plasma components and cells result in effects that range from biomolecular alterations to cell death. Modern engineering has made it easy to controllably achieve these effects because plasma devices are becoming more and more tunable. The recent studies in treatment of cancers are also very promising. Plasma is able to work as a non-invasive ablator of tumors locally. We have recently shown that it may be possible to adapt plasma for immunotherapeutic control of cancers. These studies are ongoing but there is ample evidence to suggest that plasma produces immune-mediated effects. The partnerships between the device makers (engineers and physicists) and end users (biologists, clinicians) has also helped further the scientific examination of the biological effects of plasma.
2) What are the biggest breakthroughs of Plasma Medicine so far?
The fact that plasma devices are in clinical trials, by far, has been the biggest breakthrough. Becoming part of the mainstream repertoire of therapeutic regimes used by clinicians is such a huge step! As our understanding of how plasma affects biological systems and pathways improves, so will the plasma devices. Once the safety and ease of use of plasma systems is proven, I have no doubt that doctors will be less apprehensive about widening the diseases they try to treat with plasma. Of course, if we can demonstrate definitively that plasma may be used for immunomodulation, the applications could become infinite.
While this is not strictly medicine, I must say I believe the most immediate impact of plasmas will be in the food and agriculture industry. Their disinfective properties, the growth and fecundity enhancement and the possibility of stimulation of pathogen and drought resistance in plants could be the answer to global food insecurity, especially as it results from climate change.
3) Has the technology that you are working on been commercialized?
We have something that is in on its way to be commercialized very soon and something that is waiting for a visionary to recognize and take it to the steps required for commercialization. Perhaps someone who is reading the Science Cafe blog!
4) What message would you like to send to the followers of “The Science and Engineering Café”?
Plasma Medicine emerged from the marriage between atmospheric pressure plasmas and polymer science. It is an interdisciplinary field that requires creative efforts from physicists, chemists, engineers, biologists and clinicians to study the interactions between two highly complex systems: plasma and biological systems. We need more innovative ideas, more investigative exploration from scientists in the physical and biomedical fields and the participation of entrepreneurs to take us from the laboratory to the patient.
5) How much did your mentor influence you?
I have been very fortunate in my mentors and each one had a lasting impact on me. My advisor during graduate school taught me to have confidence in myself. My postdoctoral mentor helped me appreciate patience and humility. My present mentor, Alex Fridman, lured me into to plasma medicine by his extensive knowledge of plasma chemistry and his sheer enthusiasm which has taught me the value of enjoying what you do.