Magnetic fields are fascinating – no doubt about it. Everybody who has had the pleasure of playing around with metal parts within the catchment area of a modern 3 Tesla magnetic resonance-device is able to confirm that. The invisible powers active there are that enormous that it does seem imaginable to create effects – and why not also therapeutic effects on the human organism – with magnets.
Snuggling with magnets doesn’t take you far
However, the world of magnetism in medicine is rather colorful. In addition to conventional static magnets producing magnetic fields in the range somewhere between 30 and 500 milli-Tesla, there are dynamic magnets building up magnetic fields changing intensity or direction with the electronic aid of spools.
Probably the closest to the fascination based on romantics about magnetism are static magnets. And in the reality of alternative medical healing methods these are mainly used for fighting pain. Covered up in bandages, positioned under the mattress, disguised as necklaces or integrated in a shoe sole: In regard to therapeutic applications of magnets there is nothing out there that has not been done before. This type of therapy is especially popular in the Anglo-American regions.
According to a publication in the Annals of Internal Medicine, up to 28 percent of the patients with rheumatism in their joints use magnets or – a variation of this method – copper bracelets as a supporting pain therapy. In his review about the topic, published in 2007 in the journal CMAJ of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Max Pittler, back then professorship for alternative medicine at Exeter University in Southern England, now Cochrane Collaboration, writes: “Clues regarding scientific data or biological mechanisms justifying this approach are very limited.” Overall, the authors of this work have identified 29 potentially relevant studies, among others nine randomized-controlled studies after all, where the patients quantified the pain by a visual analogous scale. All together the results were sobering: In most of the single studies there were no significant differences found between real magnets and placebo-magnets. And the total picture turned out accordingly negative.
Recently popular in oncology
A bit a closer look at the data results in an only slightly more differentiated picture: Arthrosis of the peripheral joints is the one indication where the data situation for static magnets is not as clearly negative as for other indications. Here the authors see chances for additional clinical studies. But little happened since publication of the review in 2007: “A new review of the data situation did not take place so far and I am not sure whether new studies will be added”, Pittler tells DocCheck.
The scientific landscape in the field of dynamic magnetic fields is quite a bit more dynamic: This area expanded remarkably over the past few years. Many of the things currently examined there, don’t have anything to do with classical alternative medicine any more. Most of all the field of oncology has discovered magnetic fields for itself – even though very different from what was to be expected. For example the working group of Andreas Jordan of MagForce Nanotechnologies AG in Berlin is just about ready to get approval for a magnetic field therapy suitable for glioblastoma patients. The principle: The physicians inject iron oxide particles which produce warmth by the external magnetic field. This again afflicts the tumor. In a study introduced half a year ago with 59 patients with relapse of a glioblastoma, the median survival was at 13.4 months, double as much as usually.
Changing electric fields even impresses tumor cells
Admittedly, the production of heat by magnetic fields and nanoparticles is not exactly what magnetic field romantics mean when they talk about therapeutic magnetic fields. But particularly with the relapse-glioblastoma, there are also approaches closer to the original. Just a few weeks ago at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the Israeli company NovoCure introduced the results of a phase-III study where 237 patients were treated either with changing electric fields or standard chemotherapy. These electric fields were produced by the device NovoTTF-100A. The application was done via electrodes attached to the skin of the head. The whole thing looks a bit like a bathing cap.
The results are positive as far as the total survival between the two groups in the intention-to-treat analysis did not vary significantly with a median of six months each. So if you assume that chemotherapy works, then transcranial stimulation at least was “non-inferior”. The total survival in the per-protocol-population was even better with 7.8 versus 6.1 months. And by the way, the significant advantages of stimulation concerning tolerance – here we’ve got something that (almost) without saying. Nonetheless there is another European study going on at the time being about combination of field therapy with Temozolomid to identify a potential additive effect.
Reputable science functions also with seemingly side-way therapy concepts. You just have to go for it. And you might need a great deal of patience. Magnetic field pioneer Andreas Jordan can tell a thing or two about that: “It took us nearly 20 years to get to today’s stage – only a matter of days until we get the approval.”