A professor of physics at Temple University in Philadelphia who pioneered the use of magnetic fields to decrease the viscosity of oil in pipelines, is now deploying them to thin blood in the human circulation system.
Because red blood cells contain iron, Prof Rongjia Tao has been able to reduce a person’s blood viscosity by 20–30 per cent by subjecting it to a magnetic field of 1.3 Tesla (about the same as an MRI) for about one minute.
After testing numerous blood samples in his laboratory, Tao found that the magnetic field polarises the red blood cells causing them to link together in short chains, streamlining the movement of the blood. Because these chains are larger than the single blood cells, they flow down the centre of the blood vessels, reducing the friction against their walls. The combined effects reduce the viscosity of the blood, helping it to flow more freely.
When the magnetic field was taken away, the blood’s original viscosity state slowly returned, but over a period of 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,’ said Tao. ’This method of magneto-rheology provides an effective way to control the blood viscosity within a selected range.’
Currently, the only method for thinning blood is through drugs such as aspirin. However, these drugs often produce unwanted side effects. Tao said that the magnetic field method is not only safer, it is repeatable. The magnetic fields may be reapplied and the viscosity reduced again. He also added that the viscosity reduction does not affect the red blood cells’ normal function.
Tao said that further studies are needed and that he hopes to ultimately develop this technology into an acceptable therapy to prevent heart disease.