Research team from the National University of Singapore uncovers molecule that promotes muscle health when magnetised.
Loss of physical muscle strength and muscle mass are progressive conditions as a result of ageing, this can lead to frailty and other age-related diseases. Due to its implications on reducing quality of life and higher risk of disablity, promoting muscle health is an area of research interest. A recent study led by the researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has shown how a molecule found in muscles respond to weak magnetic fields; promoting muscle health.
The team led by Associate Professor Alfredo Franco-Obregón from the NUS Institute for Health Innovation and Technology (iHealthtech), the team found that a protein known as TRPC1 responds to weak oscillating magnetic fields. Such a response is normally activated when the body exercises. This responsiveness to magnets could be used to stimulate muscle recovery, which could improve the life quality for patients with impaired mobility, in an increasingly ageing society.
“The use of pulsed magnetic fields to simulate some of the effects of exercise will greatly benefit patients with muscle injury, stroke, and frailty as a result of advanced age,” said lead researcher Associate Professor Franco-Obregón, who is also from the NUS Department of Surgery.
The NUS research team collaborated with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) on this study, and their results were first published online in Advanced Biosystems.
The magnetic fields that the research team used to stimulate the muscle health were only 10 to 15 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field, yet still much weaker than a common bar magnet. This research raised the intriguing possibility that weak magnetism is a stimulus that muscles naturally interact with.
To test this theory, the research team first used a special experimental setup to cancel out the effect of all surrounding magnetic fields. The researchers found that the muscle cells indeed grew slower when shielded from all environmental magnetic fields. These observations strongly supported the notion that the Earth’s magnetic field naturally interacts with muscles to elicit biological responses.
To show the involvement of TRPC1 is triggered by natural magnetism to promote muscle health, the researchers genetically engineered mutant muscle cells that were unresponsive to any magnetic field by removing the TRPC1 gene from these cells. They were then able to reinstate magnetic sensitivity by selectively delivering TRPC1 to these mutant muscle cells in molecular transport vehicles that combined with the mutant cells.
Previously, the researchers have shown in a separate study that response to such magnetic fields were strongly correlated to the presence of TRPC1, and it included the rejuvenation of cartilage by indirectly regulating the gut microbiome, fat burning and insulin-sensitivity through positive actions on muscle. The present study provided conclusive evidence that TRPC1 serves as a ubiquitous biological signal receptor to surrounding magnetic fields to modulate human physiology, particularly when targeted for muscle health.
Metabolic changes similar to those achieved with exercise have been observed in previous clinical trials and studies led by Associate Professor Franco-Obregón. Encouraging benefits of using the magnetic fields to stimulate muscle cells have been found, with as little as 10 minutes of exposure per week. This tantalising possibility, to improve muscle health without exercising, could facilitate recovering and rehabilitation of patients with muscle dysfunction.
Associate Professor Franco-Obregón shared, “About 40 percent of an average person’s body is muscle. Our results demonstrate a metabolic interaction between muscle and magnetism which hopefully can be exploited to improve human health and longevity.”
This study represents a milestone in the understanding of how a key protein may developmentally react to magnetic fields. The NUS iHealthtech research team is now working to extend their study to reduce drug dependence for the treatment of diseases such as diabetes.
“We hope that our research can help alleviate side effects by reducing the use of drugs for disease treatment, and to improve the quality of life of the patients,” said Associate Professor Franco-Obregón.
This project has won the Catalyst Award in the inaugural Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards conferred by the US National Academy of Medicine. The team was recognised for their breakthrough innovation to extend human health and function later in life.