Can Electromagnetic Fields Treat Diabetes?6 months ago
Posted on Oct 16, 2020, 3 p.m.
University of Iowa researchers may have discovered a non-invasive way to manage blood sugar, according to a new study recently published in Cell Metabolism. Findings showed that exposing diabetic mice to a combination of static electric and magnetic fields for a few hours per day normalized 2 major hallmarks of type 2 diabetes.
“We've built a remote control to manage diabetes," says Calvin Carter, Ph.D., one of the study's lead authors and a postdoc in the lab of senior author Val Sheffield, MD, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics, and of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the UI Carver College of Medicine. "Exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) for relatively short periods reduces blood sugar and normalizes the body's response to insulin. The effects are long-lasting, opening the possibility of an EMF therapy that can be applied during sleep to manage diabetes all day."
The unexpected discovery indicates that EMFs may alter the balance of oxidants and antioxidants within the liver to improve the body’s response to insulin, and the effect is mediated by small reactive molecules that appear to function as magnetic antennae.
The surprising discovery was made when co-lead author Sunny Huang borrowed some mice from Carter to practice taking blood from to measure blood sugar levels, the mice were being used to study the effect of EMF on the brain and behaviour of the animals. The animals were found to have had normal blood sugar levels after exposure which was even more strange as the animals had a genetic modification to make them diabetic.
"It was really odd because normally these animals have high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes, but all of the animals exposed to EMFs showed normal blood sugar levels," Huang says. "I told Calvin, 'There's something weird going on here.'"
"That's what sparked this project," Carter confirms. "Early on, we recognized that if the findings held up, they could have a major impact on diabetes care."
Working with Sheffield and UI diabetes expert Dale Abel, MD, Ph.D., chair of the UI Department of Internal Medicine, their findings held up as the combined wireless application of static magnetic and electric fields were found to modulate the blood sugar in three different mouse models of type 2 diabetes. They also showed that exposure to such fields, which are approximately 100 times that of the Earth’s, during sleep reversed the animal’s insulin resistance within three days of treatment.
EMFs are everywhere in modern society, it is almost impossible to get away from them, they are used in navigation, telecommunication, MRIs and EGGs for example. But very little is known about how EMFs affect biology. To gain clues to understanding the mechanisms underlying the effects on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity the team reviewed literature from the 1970s investigating bird migration and found that many animals sense the Earth’s electromagnetic field and use it to orient/navigate themselves.
"This literature pointed to a quantum biological phenomenon whereby EMFs may interact with specific molecules. There are molecules in our bodies that are thought to act like tiny magnetic antenna, enabling a biological response to EMFs," Carter says. "Some of these molecules are oxidants, which are studied in redox biology, an area of research that deals with the behavior of electrons and reactive molecules that govern cellular metabolism.”
The team collaborated with Douglas Spitz, Ph.D., and Gary Buettner, Ph.D., UI professors of radiation oncology, and Jason Hansen, Ph.D., from Brigham Young University, all internationally recognized experts in redox biology, to help probe the action of an oxidant molecule called superoxide, which is known to play a role in type 2 diabetes.
Further experiments suggest that EMFs alter the signalling of superoxide molecules, specifically in the liver which leads to the prolonged activation of an antioxidant response to rebalance the body’s redox set point and the response to insulin.
"When we remove superoxide molecules from the liver, we completely block the effect of the EMFs on blood sugar and on the insulin response. The evidence suggests that superoxide plays an important role in this process," Carter adds.
Human liver cells were also treated with low energy EMFs for 6 hours, this showed that a surrogate marker for insulin sensitivity improved significantly suggesting that the EMFs may also produce the same anti-diabetic effect in humans as observed in the mice models of type 2 diabetes.
The team has moved on to research with larger animals to see if the results can be replicated in animals that have more similar size and physiology to humans. There are also plans to conduct studies to understand the redox mechanism underlying the effects of the EMFs with the ultimate goal of eventually moving to clinical trials with humans to try and translate this technology into a new class of non-invasive therapies to fight the disease.
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