Magnetic brain stimulation eases symptoms in mouse model

The technology, dubbed LFMS, uses weak magnetic waves harmlessly

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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A treatment that works to stimulate the brain using weak magnetic waves effectively eased symptoms in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease, a new study reports.

Researchers hope to start a small-scale study soon testing this treatment in people.

“The technology is proven and it’s harmless and we want to see if we can duplicate the same results in humans,” Changiz Taghibiglou, PhD, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, and co-author of the study, said in a university news story.

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The study, “Low-Field Magnetic Stimulation Alleviates MPTP-Induced Alterations in Motor Function and Dopaminergic Neurons in Male Mice,” was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

Low-field magnetic stimulation, or LFMS, is a technology that uses weak magnetic waves to stimulate cells in the brain.

Previous research has shown that LFMS can help improve motor and cognitive functions in a mouse model of brain injury. In this study, scientists tested whether this technique can ease symptoms in a mouse model of Parkinson’s.

“[LFMS] can be a complementary treatment, along with drug treatment, helping physicians and patients and caretakers, because using the technology doesn’t need hospitalization, it doesn’t need any nursing, or any specialists. The device is like a small laptop and can be used by patients themselves at home,” Taghibiglou said.

Parkinson’s is caused by the progressive death of dopamine-making nerve cells in the brain. In this model, mice are treated with a chemical called MPTP (1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine) that kills these cells. The scientists used only male mice for their experiments.

“As far as I know, this is the first report of successfully using LFMS technology in an animal model of Parkinson’s disease,” Taghibiglou said.

Significant improvements in tests of motor function

Results showed that, compared to mice that got a sham treatment, LFMS led to significant improvements in multiple tests of motor function — the LFMS-treated mice could better keep their balance on a spinning rod, took longer steps, and were faster and more mobile in open-field tests.

Analyses of the mice’s brains also showed that LFMS-treated mice had more healthy dopamine-making cells and tended to have higher dopamine levels. The treatment also reduced markers of inflammation in the mice’s brains. Collectively, these data suggest that LFMS helps to protect the nerves that are lost in Parkinson’s.

“This study is the first evidence to show the therapeutic effect of LFMS and we anticipate that this non-invasive and portable method of treatment may benefit patients,” the scientists concluded.

The researchers noted, however, that there’s a lot of work that will need to be done in order to translate this approach for use in people.

“This is exciting work, providing proof of concept that LFMS does not simply improve the motor findings, but actually improves the underlying brain pathology and even reverses changes in the brain. There is a big leap, however, from an intervention showing benefit in a rodent model (Parkinson’s disease does not occur naturally in animals) to demonstrating comparable benefit in humans,” said Alex Rajput, MD, director of the Saskatchewan Movement Disorders Program, who was not directly involved in this study.

Taghibiglou and colleagues are now working to secure regulatory permissions and funding to launch a small clinical trial to test this technology in people with Parkinson’s.

“Our goal is to start a small pilot study by recruiting a few patients at small scale … The technology is easy to use and relatively inexpensive, but we need funding to begin a small-scale trial,” said Taghibiglou, who estimates that running such a study would cost several hundred thousand dollars.

Taking LFMS from ‘bench to bedside’

“Taking the ‘bench to bedside’ approach of trying LFMS in Parkinson’s patients would require several logistical steps. However, I would be keen to pursue clinical research applications with Dr. Taghibiglou, with the appropriate supports,” Rajput said.

For Taghibiglou, the fight against Parkinson’s is personal — his grandfather died due to complications of Parkinson’s, and his older brother is currently living with the disease.

“My ultimate goal is helping patients like my brother. If I can see that I can put a smile on a face of a patient and a caregiver, that is the reward,” Taghibiglou said.