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News published in the newspaper La Razón on 12/18/2023
Engineering and medicine can come together to heal wounds through a luminous beam of plasma, the fourth state of matter. Like neon lights or thunderstorms, but cold enough that we can touch it. It seems like science fiction, but it’s getting closer. Specifically, in Madrid and a clinical trial away. And Ana María Megía, professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Higher Technical School of Engineering (Comillas ICAI) of the Comillas Pontifical University, after an impressive career that includes working in the United Kingdom, the spallation neutron center of Bilbao, arrived to CERN in Geneva, where he was setting up an ion source. It was there where she came up with the idea of using plasma for the world of medicine, which she had always been interested in.

The objective was none other than to cure ulcers through cold atmospheric plasma. «On my return to Spain I began to develop the idea with my partner, Daniel Cortázar». They founded a company and created their first prototype, which he still keeps in his university office. Then, he points out, it was time to start knocking on doors. On that journey he arrived at the Comillas Pontifical University, and, “talking to my colleagues, one of my concerns was how to measure the evolution of the ulcer, since it is something three-dimensional that you are taking a photo of. The usual thing for doctors is to measure length by width, but that does not show what the evolution is like from within. We wanted to measure it in 3D, so a colleague, who knows a lot about reverse engineering, we have developed a method to see in 3D and in color how the ulcer is doing from cell phone photographs.

There Medical Plasmas was born, and the time came to begin the clinical trial, which, right now, is in the patient recruitment phase at the clinic of the University of Navarra and at the Gregorio Marañón. Of the patients who enter, half undergo this treatment and the other half, as a control group, “are treated with the best treatment currently available commercially.” Patients are treated for ten weeks, during which they go to the hospital twice a week, and then they leave for eight weeks “to continue doing what they were doing up to that point, with their usual treatments.” After eight weeks they are seen again to see the evolution. “We are very excited,” acknowledges the researcher.

“Our contribution is to have created the equipment that, until now, no one had been able to obtain, which generates a jet of plasma and air cold enough to be in contact with the skin,” she explains. The idea that plasma could be used as a cure was born “about 20 years ago, in the United States. Someone thought that plasma that was cold enough could be used to kill viruses and bacteria and that it would also improve blood circulation. And on that we base ourselves, having achieved that plasma that, on the one hand, produces an electric field that improves microcirculation, and, on the other, is super bactericidal.” “Our cells, which are more complex, do not suffer from this, but the bacteria die quickly,” she continues. «So not only do you give that area more blood flow with the subsequent oxygen and nutrients, but you also eliminate that continued fight against infection. The natural thing for the body is to heal itself, so it is not that the plasma heals, but that it leaves the way clear for the body to heal itself.

Right now, the trial is being carried out with patients with venous leg ulcers. «It is something that changes your life a lot. It makes you have to go to the doctor several times a week, being people with reduced mobility, which causes a lot of pain… It has many consequences in the lives of these people and, although there are options to alleviate its effects, right now it does not have an option. “total cure.” This is why it is so important to continue recruiting patients. «They don’t need to belong to the hospital. They just have to call 625409051 and a person will ask them a series of questions to determine if they are within the stipulated framework for the essay. And, if they fit within it, the first day they go to the hospital the system places them in the experimental group or in the control group, but they have to know that in the latter the best treatment that there is right now in the hospitals is being given. ».

The complicated world of scientific advance

For Megía, research is a true passion. Above all, she says, because of the interdisciplinary teams that are formed. “But it is very difficult,” she acknowledges, “especially when you mix the world of business, clinical trials, and so on.” Furthermore, she emphasizes that “the cost of all this is unbearable for most researchers.” On the other hand, “it is not that it is too easy to get to the information either. There is a time when, for example, you have to apply to the Spanish Medicines Agency, but how? “I think we should try to promote research because, from the moment you have the idea until it reaches society, a very long time passes with a very high economic cost.”