Some lines of evidence have suggested that the challenge to antioxidants and biomolecules provoked by pro-oxidants such as ozone may be used to generate a controlled stress response of possible therapeutic relevance in some immune dysfunctions and chronic, degenerative conditions. Immune and endothelial cells have been proposed to be elective targets of the positive molecular effects of ozone and its derived species formed during blood ozonation. On the bases of these underlying principles and against often prejudicial scepticism and concerns about its toxicity, ozone has been used in autohemotherapy (AHT) for four decades with encouraging results.
However, clinical application and validation of AHT have been so far largely insufficient. Latterly, a new and more effective therapeutic approach to ozone therapy has been established, namely extracorporeal blood oxygenation and ozonation (EBOO). This technique, first tested in vitro and then in vivo in sheep and humans (more than 1200 treatments performed in 82 patients), is performed with a high-efficiency apparatus that makes it possible to treat with a mixture of oxygen-ozone (0.5-1 microg/ml oxygen) in 1 h of extracorporeal circulation up to 4800 ml of heparinized blood without technical or clinical problems, whereas only 250 ml of blood can be treated with ozone by AHT. The EBOO technique can be easily adapted for use in hemodialysis also. The standard therapeutic cycle lasts for 7 weeks in which 14 treatment sessions of 1 h are performed.
After a session of EBOO, the interaction of ozone with blood components results in 4-5-fold increased levels of thiobarbituric acid reactants and a proportional decrease in plasma protein thiols without any appreciable erythrocyte haemolysis. On the basis of preliminary in vitro evidence, these simple laboratory parameters may represent a useful complement in the routine monitoring of biological compliance to the treatment. The clinical experience gained so far confirms the great therapeutic potential of EBOO in patients with severe peripheral arterial disease, coronary disease, cholesterol embolism, severe dyslipidemia, Madelung disease, and sudden deafness of vascular origin. Extensive investigation on oxidative stress biomarkers and clinical trials are under way to validate this new technique further.