Magnetic stimulation device could speed up muscle healing

Singapore team claims innovation can amplify biological effects of exercise on muscle tissue

Associate Professor Alfredo Franco-Obregón demonstrates MRegen on a volunteer

Building muscle is a slow and arduous process, requiring dedication and hours of often tedious exercise. For the elderly and those recovering from surgery or enforced immobility after injury, it can be a frustrating process, and loss of muscle mass can have considerable negative effects on overall health. The team at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have built a device which they call MRegen, which uses non-invasive magnetic fields. The team claims that this “tricks” muscle cells into acting as though they have been exercising, which triggers them to adapt and improve at an accelerated speed.

The team, led by Alfredo Franco-Oberegón, studied the effects of magnetism on muscle growth and claims to be exploiting two fundamental effects. Firstly, they say, muscle development is regulated by energy production, and secondly, energy management is extremely sensitive to magnetic fields.

“The device provides a uniform electromagnetic field to a muscle area at a magnitude and pulse duration that reproduces the same regenerative, energetic and metabolic responses as physical activity,” explained Franco-Oberegón. “The duration of use for the device has been optimised for providing the largest therapeutic effect in terms of muscle equality, function and metabolic stability. The device is especially useful in reducing muscle degradation in periods when physical activity is not possible.”

MRegen consists of a cylindrical cavity into which the patient places the body parts to be “exercised”.

The Singapore team has been testing the device in clinical trials. In one trial, carried out on 10 healthy volunteers, magnetic fields were applied to the legs. The researchers found that 10 minutes of magnetic stimulation once a week for five consecutive weeks showed an average of those 30 to 40 per cent improvement in muscle strength, compared with 10 volunteers who received conventional exercise treatment alone.

A second trial was conducted on patients who had undergone anterior cruciate ligament knee surgery. In this trial, 10 recruited patients were given the normal rehabilitation therapy while 10 other patients were given the magnetic field treatment with MRegen in addition to the rehabilitation therapy. It was observed that the patients who were treated with MRegen experienced a recovery in muscle size and strength in their operated leg four weeks earlier than those who had undergone only the normal rehabilitation procedures. Most notably, Magnetic Resonance Imaging measurements showed that muscle metabolism, one of the strongest indicators of muscle health and regenerative capacity, improved by up to 50 per cent in the patients who had undergone MRegen’s magnetic field treatment.

The team also claims that the treatment has a contralateral effect – that is, treating one leg positively influences the condition of the other leg. Moreover, they claim, the patients undergoing MRegen treatment reported no pain or discomfort.

“Muscle makes up 40 per cent of an average person’s body mass, and plays a major role in regulating one’s body, health and longevity. If we can harness the ability to regulate muscle development, we may gain greater control of the overall human health. MRegen, which has proven to be non-invasive and effective in regenerating muscles, can be easily modified to treat other human diseases. We foresee this technology playing an important role in disease treatment in the future,” said Franco-Oberegón.

His team has now spun off a company, called QuantumTX, to commercialise MRegen, and claims that it could be used to stave off muscle degeneration and maintain healthy metabolism in the elderly and frail, and to maintain muscle mass professional athletes during detraining, and are researching whether it could be used as part of treatments for obesity and diabetes. Early stages of this research are promising, they claim.

Schematic showing the claimed mechanism and effects of MRegen