Using Electromagnetic Fields to Treat Diabetes Attracts NIH Funding

August 2021

Postdoctoral research scholar, Calvin Carter, PhD, member of the FOEDRC and recipient of the prestigious FOE Bridge to the Cure award, in collaboration with other FOEDRC researchers, has discovered a safe new way to manage blood sugar non-invasively.  Exposing diabetic mice to a combination of static electric and magnetic fields for a few hours per day normalized blood glucose levels and reversed insulin resistance.

 “The more we look, the more the transfer of electrons seems to underlie diabetes,” Carter said in a Q&A with the American Diabetes Association (ADA). That search was borne out last fall, when Carter and MD/PhD student Sunny Huang, PhD, published ground-breaking findings in Cell Metabolism, showing that static electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) can be used to normalize blood glucose in diabetic mice. Reactions in the press were excited and swift to the researchers’ evidence that blood sugar and insulin sensitivity could be controlled non-invasively.

 A comprehensive piece by Jennifer Brown in the most recent issue of Medicine Iowa looks at the discovery’s origins and its implications. A combination of curiosity, luck, and the Iowa culture of collaboration may lit the initial spark, but it was a series of faculty mentors that gave Carter and Huang the time and support to follow that spark’s trail. These faculty have since included E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD, director of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center (FOEDRC); Val Sheffield, MD, PhD, FOEDRC member and professor in the Division of Medical Genetics; and Eric Taylor, PhD, director of the FOEDRC’s Metabolomics Core Facility and associate professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics.

 And now, with Abel and Sheffield as principal investigators, and Carter and Taylor as co-investigators, the team will continue to follow that trail with the support of a five-year, $2.4M R01. The project will allow the researchers to examine more closely why certain molecules, reactive oxygen species (ROS), behave like “tiny magnetic antenna,” as Carter puts it. One ROS, a superoxide in the liver, has been receptive to EMFs in helping modulate insulin sensitivity. Its removal in mouse experiments negated the earlier observed effects that launched Carter and Huang’s work.

 As Brown points out in her article, human trials are still to come, but preliminary tests on human liver cells are promising. She quotes Carter on the end goal: “Our dream is to create a new class of noninvasive medicines that remotely take control of cells to fight disease.”

 “This grant is really the next inevitable step in the process,” Abel said. “All credit is due to Calvin and Sunny, who made the initial discovery, but also to the team-based environment of the FOEDRC and Carver College of Medicine. There are mentors around every corner ready to pitch in when something important comes up. We are all excited to see what is next, not only for this project, which could fundamentally change diabetes care, but also for Calvin and Sunny.”