One of the easy to see futures for regenerative medicine is taking the patient's own cells and modifying them in some way to enhance a specific type of healing. This morning's blog is on one such type of approach that uses PRP and electromagnetic fields. So here's a glimpse into one of the possible futures of PRP treatment in the 2020s.
What Is an Electromagnetic Field?
An electromagnetic field (EMF) uses both an electric and a magnetic field to create force. While long-term exposure to strong EMFs (e.g., living in close proximity to a power line) has been linked to health risks, using low-frequency EMFs temporarily for diagnostic (diagnosing disease) and therapeutic (treating disease) purposes in medicine has been shown to be beneficial.
One very common example of a tool that uses an electromagnetic field to aid in diagnosing disease is magnetic resonance imaging or MRI. An MRI provides images of structures (bones, organs, tissues, etc.) inside the body at a high resolution. Radiofrequency ablation is another EMF application and is used, for example, as a way to ablate painful nerves, treatment to reduce tumor sizes in cancer, and to treat certain heart rhythm conditions, such as atrial fibrillation.
Now, a new study suggests another area in which EMF may be beneficial is in wound treatment involving platelets. Let me explain.
EMFs May Customize the Release of Growth Factors
The new study used an EMF called a pulsed electric field (PEF) to investigate its effect on platelet-rich plasma (PRP). PRP is created when whole blood is concentrated to isolate the platelets, and platelets contain growth factors that help clot blood and begin healing.
In this study, researchers found that the EMF changed the growth factor release from platelets, meaning it may be possible to create growth factor profiles that would accommodate different stages of wound healing. Different growth factors do different things, so one could see a day when the doctor injects PRP and then places an EM machine over the area and dials it in for cartilage repair (TGF-b), new blood vessel formation (VEGF), or new tendon/ligament tissue (FGF). So will we be able to use EM fields one day to be able to dial in what platelets can do? We’ll have to wait and see.
We Have Used Similar Techniques
In our licensed Grand Cayman site, we've used a process of natural chemical modification of platelet growth factor release. For example, in treating bulging low back discs, we take the patient's own platelets and prompt them to preferentially release VEGF, a growth factor that helps the body grow new blood vessels. Why? The part of the disc we're treating has a poor blood supply.
The upshot? The future of regenerative medicine will definitely involve modifying our own cells. In particular, modifying growth factor release to focus on specific types of healing. So I can't wait to get my fancy EMF device with a button to enhance either tendon, cartilage, or blood vessel repair!