A non-invasive way to manage blood glucoseMonday, 12 October 2020
Researchers from the University of Iowa may have discovered a safe new non-invasive way to manage blood glucose.
By exposing mice with diabetes to a combination of static electric and magnetic fields for a few hours per day, the team found it was able to normalise two major hallmarks of type 2 diabetes.
“Exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) for relatively short periods appears to reduce blood glucose and normalize the body’s response to insulin. The effects are also long-lasting, opening the possibility of an EMF therapy being applied during sleep to manage diabetes all day.” says Calvin Carter, one of the study’s lead authors.
The unexpected and surprising discovery may have major implications in diabetes care, particularly for people who find current treatment regimens cumbersome.
The study indicates that EMFs alter the balance of oxidants and antioxidants in the liver, improving the body’s response to insulin. This effect is mediated by small reactive molecules that seem to function as “magnetic antennae.”
Serendipity and collaboration
The initial finding was pure serendipity and came after Sunny Huang, the studies co-lead author, who has an interest in metabolism and diabetes, needed to practice taking blood from mice and measuring blood glucose levels.
Carter let her borrow some of the mice he was using to study the effect of EMFs on brain and behavior.
“It was odd because the mice normally have high blood glucose and type 2 diabetes, but all of the animals exposed to EMFs showed normal blood glucose levels,” Huang says.
The finding that these mice had normal blood glucose levels after EMF exposure was doubly strange because the mice had a genetic modification which made them diabetic.
“Early on, we recognized that if the findings held up, they could have a major impact on diabetes care,” said Carter.
The findings held up in an extended study which found that the application of static magnetic and electric fields modulated blood glucose in three different mouse models of type 2 diabetes.
The team also showed that exposure to such fields, approximately 100 times that of the Earth’s, during sleep, reversed insulin resistance within three days of treatment.
EMFs and redox biology
EMFs are everywhere; telecommunications, navigation, and mobile devices all use them to function. EMFs are also used in medicine, in MRIs and EEGs, for example.
However, very little is known about how they affect biology. On their hunt for clues to understand the mechanisms underlying the biological effects of EMFs on blood glucose and insulin sensitivity, Carter and Huang reviewed literature from the 1970s investigating bird migration.
They found that many animals sense the Earth’s electromagnetic field and use it to orient themselves as well as for navigation.
“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 behaviour of electrons and reactive molecules that govern cellular metabolism.”
The team collaborated with researchers from Brigham Young University who are all internationally recognized experts in redox biology.
Their experiments suggest that EMFs alter the signaling 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 glucose and on the insulin response. The evidence suggests that superoxide plays an important role in this process,” Carter adds.
Aiming for human studies
In addition to the mouse studies, the researchers also treated human liver cells with EMFs for six hours and showed that a surrogate marker for insulin sensitivity improved significantly, suggesting that the EMFs may also produce the same effect in humans.
Carter and Huang are energized by the possibility of translating the findings to human patients with type 2 diabetes.
In terms of safety, the World Health Organization considers low energy EMFs safe for human health. The UI study also found no evidence of any adverse side effects in mice.
The team is now working on a larger animal model to see if the EMFs produce similar effects in an animal that has a more similar size and physiology to humans. They also plan to conduct studies to understand the redox mechanism underlying the effects of EMFs.
Their ultimate goal is to move into clinical trials with patients to translate the technology into a new class of therapies.
“Our dream is to create a new class of non-invasive medicines that remotely take control of cells to fight disease,” Carter says.
The findings of the research were first published in Cell Metabolism.