University of Iowa researchers discover electromagnetic fields treat diabetes in mice

Researchers used these fields to manage the blood sugar of mice who have type 2 diabetes, hoping their findings lead to potentially non-invasive treatments for humans to manage their diabetes.


Tate Hildyard

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are seen on Tuesday, June 23, 2020.

Lillian Poulsen, News Reporter

University of Iowa researchers are using electromagnetic fields to manage blood sugar in animal models with diabetes, hoping their research will lead to non-invasive treatments for humans with diabetes.

Lead authors of the study, Department of Molecular Medicine MD/PhD student Sunny Huang and Postdoc American Diabetes Association Research Fellow Calvin Carter, studied the exposure of diabetic mice to static electric and magnetic fields for a few hours per day.

They found that seven hours of exposure helped regulate the blood sugar in these mice with Type 2 diabetes. The researchers discovered this treatment after Carter had spent a few months researching the effects of magnetic fields on mice in the lab.

He said he lent the mice to Huang to study diabetes and metabolism in mice. When she started taking the mice’s blood sugar, Huang said she noticed that the mice no longer had diabetes.

Huang said they bought more control solutions and did the experiment multiple times to see if the magnetic fields were reducing the blood sugar in the mice. They looked at diet-induced and genetic models in mice and found the same results, she said.

Normal diabetic mice have blood sugar measurements around 100 milligrams per deciliter, Huang said. In the models they were looking at, the mice’s blood sugar went from above 150 milligrams per deciliter to between 60 to 90 milligrams, she said.

From there, the researchers began talking to experts in UI radiation oncology, Huang said. She said they noticed that the molecules that were affected by the magnetic fields were known as free radicals, which are atoms that can damage cells in the body.

Huang said working at the UI gave them a unique opportunity to collaborate with experts in many different fields.

“It’s a great testament to the uniqueness of Iowa. On this project, we really brought together a lot of scientists in all of these different departments that maybe don’t usually all work together on a single project,” Huang said. “I think that is really unique and the signaling of what the next generation of scientists is going to look like.”

The next step is for the researchers to test this on pig models, Carter said. Huang said the heart and cardiovascular units in pigs are similar to humans, which is where researchers look when testing treatments for diabetes.

After that they hope to be able to test it in clinical trials to show that magnetic fields can treat diabetes in humans, Carter said. He said they’ve begun testing the fields using human tissues, showing that the treatment works.

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For now, the researchers are working on a safety study in collaboration with the UI cancer center, Carter said.

Carter said the researchers are excited by the potential for this study to improve patient care.

“Right now, the way patients manage diabetes is with pills and injections. It’s very cumbersome to manage diabetes, and a lot of these medications have some unpleasant side effects,” Carter said. “The beauty of this type of treatment is that it’s completely non-invasive and it’s something that can be automated.”

Huang said they hope they can develop this project into a wearable device.

“If we develop this into a wearable device, this is something that patients can apply to their abdomens and go to bed. Upon waking up, they can take off that device and then go about their day without worrying about when to take what and stacking pills on top of injections,” Carter said. “We envision this being a really simple way to manage diabetes.”

With this device, the researchers hope to target the liver, where metabolism takes place, which is important to treating diabetes, Carter said.

“This is forward thinking. The findings are really exciting and the potential in the long run is fantastic and would be so meaningful for the diabetes community and healthcare in general,” UIHC Public Relations Manager Laura Shoemakersaid. “But there’s a lot of steps along the way before we get there.”

Since the start of the project, the researchers have received funding from many reputable sources across the country and worldwide, Shoemaker said.

“This project is so out there and so unique. It’s not really something you see, even in science these days,” Huang said. “I think being grounded in evidence and also having the backing of these reputable institutions is a testament to the fact that this is real and there are really interesting things going on here.”