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Could a 1.3-Tesla magnetic device help prevent heart attacks?

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | June 09, 2011
Patients at risk of a heart attack often get a prescription for aspirin to thin their blood. But Temple University physicists say a high-field magnetic field applied to the blood for only one minute can safely reduce its "thickness," possibly paving the way for new treatments.

Blood viscosity, in essence, is the thickness or stickiness of blood, and is a known risk factor (especially in men) for heart attacks and stroke, as research suggests high blood viscosity can injure blood vessels. And a common preventative treatment, aspirin, has side effects.

But Rongjia Tao, professor and chair of physics at Temple University in Philadelphia, decided to apply to the human circulatory system a technique he developed in 2008 -- using magnetic fields to decrease the viscosity of oil in engines.
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In the study, Tao and a former graduate student found that a 1.3-Tesla magnetic field applied parallel to the blood flow direction for one minute can reduce blood viscosity by 20 to 30 percent. The strong magnetic fields reverse the polarity of the red blood cells, causing them to aggregate and form chains. These have a streamlined shape and move to the center of the vessel, thereby reducing viscosity along the flow direction.

The reduction in viscosity lasts several hours, but reapplying the magnetic fields causes the blood to lose viscosity again. The viscosity reduction does not affect the function of the blood cells, the scientists said, meaning the technology could have therapeutic uses.

However, the experiment was conducted in viscometers -- devices for measuring viscosity -- and the technology would still require refinements before it's used on people.

The findings of the study, conducted with Tao's former graduate student Ke "Colin" Huang, a medical physics resident in the department of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan, will appear in the journal Physical Review E.

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