Magnets may Help Prevent Heart Attacks

A researcher has proven that magnetic fields have the potential to act as a blood thinner, and possibly reduce the risk of heart attack.

, Rongjia Tao, professor and chair of physics at Temple University, has discovered that he can thin human blood by subjecting it to a magnetic field, reducing the risk of heart attack in individuals who suffer from high blood viscosity.

Tao has previously used electric or magnetic fields to decrease the viscosity of oil in engines and pipelines.

Now he has turned his sights to the human body; Tao is using the same magnetic fields to thin human blood in the circulation system.

By targeting the iron in red blood cells, Tao has been able to reduce the blood viscosity of an individual by 20-30% using the magnetic field of 1.3 Telsa (about the same as an MRI). The field would target the iron in the blood and be used on the individual for approximately one minute.

Tao and his assistant, former graduate student Ke "Colin" Huang, performed tests on various blood samples in a Temple University lab. They discovered that the magnetic field polarizes the red blood cells, which causes them to connect to each other in short chains and streamlines the movement of the blood in the veins.

These chains are larger than the single blood cells, so they flow down the center of the vein; this action reduces the friction against the walls of the blood vessels. The joint effects reduce the viscosity of the blood and allow it to flow without restraint.

When the magnetic field was removed, the blood's original viscosity state was restored, but the process took several hours.

"By selecting a suitable magnetic field strength and pulse duration, we will be able to control the size of the aggregated red-cell chains, hence to control the blood's viscosity," stated Tao. "This method of magneto-rheology provides an effective way to control the blood viscosity within a selected range."

At the moment, the only method for blood thinning is to take medication, such as aspirin; these drugs, however, can frequently cause unwanted side effects. Tao said that not only is the magnetic field method safer, it is a repeatable treatment. The magnetic fields may be reapplied and the viscosity reduced multiple times. He also stated that the viscosity reduction caused by the magnetic field does not affect the red blood cells' normal function.

Tao reported that further studies are needed, but he hopes to ultimately develop this technology into an approved therapy for heart disease prevention.

Tao and Huang —who is now a medical physics resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Michigan—are publishing their findings in the journal, Physical Review E.