Exploiting Magnetism to Improve Health

Richmond, VA (January 11, 2017)- One in five Americans over the age of 18 suffers from diagnosable neurological disorders including Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Deepbrain stimulation by magnetic fields has offered promising treatments, but progress is hampered by poor understanding of the interaction of magnetic fields with neurons.

Ravi Hadimani, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, is helping forge the path toward safe, non-invasive treatment methods with a study that will better clarify how brains respond to magnetic fields. Hadimani is co-principal investigator along with colleagues at Iowa State University on this project, funded by a three-year National Science Foundation grant. The project is also developing the next generation of researchers at VCU and abroad and has helped Hadimani establish the new Biomagnetics Laboratory at VCU.

“These NSF funds together with the start-up funds provided by the School of Engineering will allow VCU’s Biomagnetics Laboratory to exploit magnetism to the fullest for improving human health,” Hadimani said.

This study builds on Hadimani’s research that showed magnetic stimulation could change the growth patterns of neurons in vitro. It will generate data to refine the technique which, when perfected, may help treat hardto-access regions of the brain including those associated with PTSD and Parkinson’s disease. Using specially fabricated microchips that can isolate single rat neurons, Hadimani and his colleagues align the chips and apply magnetic fields from commercial Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) coils and see how neurons respond.

“My expertise comes in finding how much stimulation to use and where to apply it. There is a complex relationship between the geometry of the TMS coil and the stimulation location and intensity in the brain. Based on the results, we will redesign the coils and make other modifications to the system.”

VCU undergraduates, graduate students and post-docs are assisting in experiments in the Biomagnetics Laboratory. VCU undergraduates Gabrielle Jones and Ciro Alcoba Serrate conducted experiments at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, thanks to a related NSF grant under the International Research Experience for Students program.