Magnetic Health: a recent history of the science

DISORDERS: bone healingAlzheimers diseasewound healing; lumbago; insomnia; headache

"Living systems can be affected by many agents in many different ways, but these influences add up to modifications of one basic parameter, the density of electric polarisation".

Emilio del Giudice, Physicist, University of Milan, 1990.


Not many people , - even fewer scientists - , would profess to understand what magnetism really is, and fewer still can explain if or how it affects human cells. The 'hard' scientific peer-reviewed research on magnetic bio-effects is scanty, its results often inconclusive, contradictory or bewildering, and its mechanisms unknown or at best guessed at. By frightening contrast the numbers of bio-magnetic devices claimed to improve the health, or repair the body's disorders, are many, often bolstered by pseudoscientific "evidence" or by uncontrolled case histories chosen to convince the potential buyer of the proffered apparatus.

Can we find any bedrock of fact anywhere, to serve as a starting point?

One starting point must be the way an electron spins, and how the direction of that spin induces a magnetic field near it. Normally electrons in most atoms orbit their associated nuclei in pairs, with each electron in the pair spinning in opposite directions, so as to balance each other's directional force or 'moment'. Some atoms, however, have single electrons amongst those orbiting their nucleus, and these clearly cannot be balanced in equilibrium, so they exhibit a directional moment. If the atom (or molecule or ion) includes several such unpaired electrons, which for some reason do not relapse into balanced pairs, then the atom maintains a strong net directional moment. This force is magnetism: the net directional moment of unpaired electrons. There is no new kind of force needed to explain it other than what we already believe happens inside atoms.

It was called magnetism because a certain kind of stone, magnetite or lodestone, was discovered by an ancient Greek shepherd called Magnes to attract iron. Another version of the legend suggests that this sort of stone was common in Magnesia, northern Greece. The atoms in lodestone, made of ferrous oxide, (Fe3O4), contains several unpaired electrons.

How does this 'unbalanced ' collection of electrons cause other materials such as an iron pin to be attracted towards it? It is because the two separate materials (magnet and pin) are trying to achieve the equilibrium together which the single material cannot.The reason why opposite electromagnetic charges attract is because of their basic need to reach this equilibrium. So long as the electron spin is not disturbed, its magnetism will endure unchanged. But if thermal agitation (by which I mean heat) disrupts the spinning electrons by making them change direction, the magnetism declines.

This can be done by simply heating the material. After a certain point ( known as the Curie point, or for antiferromagnets the Niel point), at which the thermal agitation is greater than the force of the electron spin, the material ceases to be magnetic. Another way of disrupting electron spin is to hit the material with a hammer. The physiotherapist does something similar to your muscles when massaging them, which has a relaxing effect as the ions are literally bashed out of you. Both methods can demagnetise any soft iron bar magnet, as any schoolboy knows. A third way is by "degaussing" or applying a reverse magnetic field to neutralise the spinning electrons.

Although all organic substances are in fact magnetic, or potentially magnetic, in that they are repelled or attracted by a magnetic field, - even paper by a rubbed comb - their magnetism is weak (it is called diamagnetism) and depends on the existence of an external field to unbalance the electrons which are normally almost all in pairs. Some materials whose electrons are firmly and happily paired have no net magnetic moment since their spinning electrons are orbiting the nucleus too far apart to affect each other. These are called paramagnetic.

In other materials the spinning electrons line up throughout the material in alternative directions so that they cancel each other's effect (these are called antiferromagnets) and these too are obviously only very weakly magnetic.

However if and when all the unpaired electrons are spinning in the same direction the net magnetic moment can be very strong (these are ferromagnets). Being a ferromagnet does not necessarily mean that the substance is made of iron: the chromium dioxide which coats our favourite audio tapes is a ferromagnet.

Turning now to the cell's organic nucleus, in which resides its DNA, we also, of course, find spinning electrons. Of these by far the most important are the electrons which orbit the hydrogen atoms which alone link the bases on either side of the helices (composed of sugar- phosphate strands).

Hydrogen has only one electron, so by itself is inevitably possessed of a net magnetic moment, and thus unstable. Hydrogen can solve its embarrassing instability by sharing its single electron with another hydrogen atom, thus achieving equilibrium, and a co-valent bond forms between them. It is a very uneasy partnership however, and it takes very little to persuade the electrons in a co-valent hydrogen bond to go elsewhere.

Not surprisingly therefore the bonds holding DNA together are incredibly sensitive to magnetic fields generated by any stray unpaired electrons (or ions) which happen to be nearby. The diagram shows the general arrangement. Such ions of course are the underlying cause of all electromagnetic fields, and it is their movement en masse which gives the moving fields their characteristics of frequency and wavelength.

Now we can see how magnetic fields might affect DNA, by making it easy for the strands to separate. (It is also possible that magnetic fields might also help them to stay attached). The effect of a magnetic field might therefore be to encourage the synthesis of DNA by splitting the strands apart at the right time, and thus in turn lead to protein synthesis as the process of mitosis proceeds. But remember that the DNA strand itself is also polarised along its length, with a positive charge at one end and a negative one at the other. In between there is presumably a gradient of charge. A very specific magnetic field might therefore encourage only a small part of the helix to split, at a very specific point in the strand.

One thing which puzzles cell biologists is that the DNA seems to split not only from one end then gradually unfold, but to do so simultaneously throughout its length.

Reba Goodman works at Columbia University's Health Science Pathology laboratory in New York. For some years she has been exposing the salivary gland cells from a fly Sciara Coprophila (Coprophila actually means 'dung-loving') to a time-varying extra low frequency magnetic field, to see if such fields have any biological effect. She has constantly found a higher level of transcription in the exposed cells, whether the field was time or amplitude dependent, also that some of the proteins subsequently produced were not present in the unexposed controls.

Mays Swicord and his co-workers also found not only that such fields affected gene expression, that is the way genes are produced and what sort, but also that different sets of genes were affected by signals of different time characteristics. From such studies it certainly looks as if alternating current (A.C. ) magnetic fields can cause biological effects likely to speed up protein synthesis. It also suggests that unusual proteins can also be synthesised by them, which presumably includes neoplastic or cancerous tissues.

What about static magnetic fields? By which I mean magnetic fields which are not changing their electron spin at all, but which nevertheless have a net magnetic moment.

Though his namesake Kyoichi Nakagawa had researched static magnetic treatment at the Isuzu Hospital in Tokyo since the mid-1950s, it was Masayoshi Nakagawa and Yuzo Matsuda from Japan's Railway Labour Science Research Institute who reported in 1988 that chronic exposure to to a strong (0.6Tesla) static magnetic field caused rats to avoid shocks less than their unexposed counterparts, in other words that the fields may be affecting the rats' sensitivity. More than twenty years before that Madeleine Barnothy had pointed to a possible effect of the magnetic field on the genetic code, but she too had been using very high (0.94 Tesla) magnetic fields. Around about the same time during the forties a researcher called Hansen had found that applying magnets to people affected their autonomic nervous system.

Kyoshi Nakagawa suggests that the human body has evolved in the influence of the earth's magnetic field, but that modern living has decreased its effect. He believes that by applying an artificial magnetic field the illnesses which result from this "magnetic field deficiency syndrome" can be alleviated. He identifies the symptoms of the syndrome as: stiffness of the shoulders , back and scruff of the neck, uncertain lumbago, chest pains for no specific reason, habitual headache, dizziness and insomnia for no apparent reason. habitual constipation, and general lassitude.

An unbalanced autonomic nervous system might also be the result of magnetic field deficiency. In his paper which appeared in a 1976 issue of the Japanese Medical Journal, he reported his original results of tests conducted to relieve stiffness of the shoulders. The patients were asked to wear ferrite permanent magnetic bands in the form of bracelets. This proved highly successful, and another researcher, Fujimoto confirmed the effects in a separate series of tests. Other Japanese scientists Nambu and Kimura issued 1163 magnetic bracelets and compared their effects with 644 non-magnetised bracelets worn to treat stiffness of the shoulders. Considerable differences were reported between the two groups.

In another series of tests Nakagawa placed ferrite permanent magnets in the foam rubber mattresses of hospitalised patients, and reported subjective improvements, but no clinical differences.

Another Japanese researcher, Tomizuka, found that magnetic fields were effective in treating various disorders.

In one of the largest research projects ever undertaken in this field, in 1974 Nakagawa distributed questionnaire sheets with "patch on the skin" type magneto-therapeutic devices to four groups totalling 11,648 cases. No ill effects were reported from use, but the devices were found to be over 90 percent effective, with a confidence coefficient of 99 percent. A similar level of success was found when necklaces made of rare earth cobalt magnets with a surface flux density of 1300 Gauss were worn.

Another researcher, Horie, in 1976 used magnetic finger rings to test their effects. Again he found that they were 76 to 93 percent effective in treating shoulder stiffness, and even when the tests were "blind", there was still a considerable difference between the controls and the cases, so the placebo effect was evidently not responsible for the difference.

These tests with necklaces were replicated by Takashaki, and another separate group under Ohta, (who found that the magnetised necklaces were 60 percent effective compared with only 20 percent using the non-magnetised ones), and also by Sugiura and Shimada. It seems that the stronger (1300 Gauss) necklaces were more effective than the weaker (200 Gauss) versions.

Our normal electromagnetic environment is not likely to include fields much higher than about 50,000 nanotesla (the geomagnetic field of the earth) and a typical magnetic field in a house from domestic wiring might only be as high as 200 nt (2 millitesla), or some combination of the two.

True, some scientists have pointed out that the earth's geomagnetic field is gradually weakening (at about 0.05 per cent a year) and Charles Brooker and others have even questioned whether the geomagnetic field is stationary, both of which, if true, may make its effect more powerful. But why should and how could the tiny magnets used by magnetotherapists affect us so profoundly as to cure serious disorders, which they claim?

The answer could well have been presaged by none other than Isaac Newton himself.

Newton had found out by experiment that if a static magnet was moved it could induce an electric field, whereas if it was stationary it did not. Only the actual movement caused the induction. Consider now a small magnet applied to the skin immediately above a vein or artery, where the blood flows past it underneath the skin. The blood, with its haemoglobin - a molecule containing an atom of iron at its centre - must therefore move past the magnet. Inevitably then a small electric current is induced in the iron atoms and then carried round the body, into its finest recesses, including the brain, the lungs and the heart.

The strength of this effect will be influenced by such factors as the North South alignment of the magnet relative to the blood's flow, the orientation of the person in the earth's magnetic field. and any other electric appliances which might be operating nearby (remember Galvani's assistant). But how might these induced electric or magnetic fields help or hinder the body as it struggles to maintain its morphology by cell division?

The structure of haemoglobin itself gives us a clue. The iron atom at its centre plays an important role in carrying oxygen round the bloodstream from the lungs to the brain and then the muscles. This Fe atom (called the haem) with its unpaired electrons, can pick up,and let go oxygen atoms very easily. But it is protected by globulin, which are effectively four pairs of polarised polymer strands , encompassing the haem in such a way that their negative ends and positive ends face each other like four pairs of horseshoes.

This protective arrangement ensures that under normal conditions the haem would not itself become magnetised, or if already magnetised it would not change its magnetic condition. Remember I said that all eukaryotic cells have a nucleus containing DNA? Well, human haemoglobin is the exception: it has no nucleus, and no DNA.

When one thinks about it, that makes sense: a nearby iron atom whose net magnetic moment is being changed continually as it collects and drops oxygen would be confusing to any DNA functioning as an aerial receiver: the haemoglobin would "jam" the DNA's reception so to speak.

When they do become magnetised the haemoglobin cells tend to stack like coins (they are flat discs) as their magnetic fields attract each other, positive to negative.

Consider now what might happen if a stray artificial field happens to generate a net magnetic moment in an otherwise stable haemoglobin molecule. It would have a disturbing effect on any other nucleated cells nearby, impairing their reception of incoming signals for DNA synthesis, protein synthesis or for any other reason, such as instructing for morphogenetic integrity.

One of the most important types of blood cell is the T-lymphocyte. These cells confirm which are the cells belonging to the body and which are foreigners. They mark the latter by attaching flags to them for subsequent destruction by the macrophages (which literally gobble them up) or for other kinds of immune system cells to deal with.

Could it be that magnetised haemoglobin inhibits the action of T-lymphocytes, preventing them from fulfilling their cytotoxic (cell-killing) role?

There is some evidence that this is so. Daniel Lyle is a solitudinous man with a long flowing beard, reminiscent of those busts of Plato one sees in museums, and just as taciturn. He has been researching electromagnetism and life for at least a decade. In 1988(?), under the general direction of Ross Adey, Dan Lyle and his colleagues tried to see what would happen if they exposed human T-lymphocytes to very weak EM energy. Would the exposed cells respond just as easily to mark any foreign invaders (called mitogens because lymphocytes react them by increasing in numbers, using mitosis to do so). In fact exposing T-cells to a mitogen is a good way of seeing whether the T-cells are acting normally, and some well established mitogens, like pokeweed, are often used in this kind of laboratory work.

Sure enough, Lyle found that the cytotoxicity of the T-cells was inhibited by upto 40 percent compared with unexposed lymphocytes. Other experiments confirmed that it did not matter whether the frequency was ELF or microwave: the lymphocytes were obviously less capable of carrying out their marker function, since they did not proliferate anything like as quickly or as much. In fact an Italian team had found the same thing in 1983, and other researchers replicated the findings afterwards. There was no doubt about the matter: electromagnetic energy inhibits the vital lymphocyte function of telling the difference between our own cells and those of foreign invaders. The enormous implications of this were rightly treated with some caution by the scientists: to them, how the inhibition occurred was still a mystery.

Unlike the early research into magnetic field bio-effects, the strength of the field sufficient to upset T-cell proliferation (the name used when cells divide by mitosis) was only about the same levels which might be found in our everyday environment. During a decade of research, Ruggero Cadossi at Modena University's Instituto Clinica Medica II used a frequency of 75 Hertz, a pulse width of 1.3 milliseconds, and a field strength of 2 to 3 millitesla to cause an increase in cell division and a corresponding growth in DNA synthesis. These EM field characteristics are to be found in some homes, though only when the ground return currents are unbalanced. (Such imbalances might be found, for example, where the cabling from electric substations curls round a house rather than enters the transformer in a straight line).

Cadossi found out something more than Lyle. In 1990 he reported the his studies with live animals (mice this time, poor things) that PEMF exposure did not influence bone-marrow cell proliferation in normal intact mice, but only if they had been pre-treated with x-rays or cyclophosphamide, when the resulting damage to the bone marrow was increased. Perhaps it is the combination of our ordinary pulsed EM environment plus the added burden of a nearby high frequency transmitter that causes the myelogenous leukemias, whereas the lymphocytic leukemias may be caused by PEMF alone.

Cadossi noticed that the effect was more prevalent when CLL lymphocytes (chronic lymphoproliferative leukemia) or lymphocytes from aged donors were used. This ties in with the age statistics of these disorders: they are primarily disorders of the more elderly.

To return to our journey through the magnetic minefields, and haemoglobin. In trying to understand if and why small magnets applied over the veins or arteries might heal us, remembering that haemoglobin is a cell like a magnet with its keepers in place, it could be that the small magnets are degaussing the iron within the haemoglobin, and thus allowing the lymphocytes to improve their functions in identifying invading pathogens. In consequence the pathogens are removed by other parts of the immune system and the infection or disorder goes away.

If the distant action of magnetism (and also magnetised haemoglobin) can impair the immune system, then perhaps heating the blood will also have a beneficial effect by decreasing the net magnetic moment in its haemoglobin. In 1990 it was reported that an Aids patient had been 'cured' by simply extracting his blood, heating it to 108 degrees Fahrenheit, and then replacing it. The operation was long, difficult, and dangerous, but it seems to have worked: within a few days all the patient's symptoms of Aids had gone. I will deal with the whole question of Aids in a separate chapter, but this clue suggests we are on the right track.

When we get ill from a serious infection we often get a fever. The fever seems to be a crucial part of ridding ourselves of the infection: if it is not intense enough the malady is not cured, often with dire consequences. Thucydides remarked in his history of the Great Plague of Athens that those who suffered the highest fevers were most likely to survive, but his keen observations have gone unnoticed for millennia for lack of anyone wondering why that was, and doctors have been unable to explain why the body often responds in this way when attacked by infection.

I mentioned earlier that haemo-irradiation - a practice gaining favour in the twenties - had been eclipsed when antibiotics appeared. What I failed to write was that the radiation was not ionising (like x-ray therapy) but at ultraviolet frequencies, that is frequencies not much faster than visible light. Ultraviolet light is used in butchers' or fishmongers' shops to kill flies, and also for treating psoriasis, of which more anon. In haemo-irradiation UV light is applied to the patient's blood, and was found to cure atypical pneumonias like pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, herpes, and other symptoms associated with immune deficit.

Its practitioners soon found that it was only necessary to irradiate a small percentage of the blood to effect the cure. Today this form of electrohealing is being revived in Germany where it started, to treat disorders for which antibiotics and pharmaceuticals have no answer. Its effective mechanism could well be that it disturbs the net magnetic moment of the haemoglobin, as well as fracturing H-bonds in the pathogenic pleomorphs within the bloodstream, These are small microscopic extracellular particles which are called pleomorphs because they keep changing shape, possibly due to the influence of electromagnetic fields.

Applying magnetic fields might also one day be a way of treating Alzheimer's disease. I report a single curious incident when an Alzheimer's patient completely regained his lucidity a few hours after an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan in which powerful electromagnets are applied to the brain so as to cause the molecules in its cells to orient in the magnetic field. When the magnets are turned off the instrument can obtain an image of the brain and any abnormalities by noting the speed with which the cells return to their original spin positions.

Sadly no one who was told of this curious event with the Alzheimer's patient has been able to follow it up, though I gather that some studies at SRI are now collating reported MRI bio-effects.

The primary discovery that the two poles of a magnet act to change and alter biological systems was arguably made in 1936 when Dr. Roy Davis, quite by accident, noticed that magnets seemed to be affecting the behaviour of two cardboard boxes of earth worms. The event is described in "Magnetism and its effect on the living system" (Exposition Press, Florida):

"The accidental discovery was made in a small home laboratory built upon leaving grade school and prior to attending the University of Florida. A large horseshoe magnet was on a wooden work bench near work on a small electronic oscillator used in the old superheterodyne radio circuits in early days of radio. The afternoon had been planned for fishing, and three cardboard containers of earthworms (presumably for bait) were on the workbench. The earthworms in the cardboard containers were in adequate amounts of black rich soil, with sufficient moisture , and air holes had been punched in the containers.

"The covers of the containers were securely fastened to prevent escape. In the process of moving equipment on the work bench the containers of worms were placed unintentionally with one container resting against each end or pole of the magnet, and the other was a distance from the magnet.

"As the day progressed additional laboratory work cancelled the fishing plans. The earthworms and containers near the magnet were left in their positions for the rest of that day and night until the following morning. The next morning there was an unexpected experience. The worms had eaten through one side of the container that was resting against the south pole of the horseshoe magnet, while the other containers were in no way changed".

The procedure was repeated, and again over a three day period the worms ate their way out of the container near the south pole of the magnet. Further refinements established that the "south pole" worms were fatter and more active, while the "north pole" worms were thin and slow. Moreover the waste matter discharged from the exposed worms contained much more oils and fats that the controls.The strength of the first magnet was 3000 Gauss. It was found that the lowest strength to cause any effect was about 200 Gauss, and above 4500 Gauss the effects diminished.

I tried to replicate this simple experiment without success. But other researchers like Boe and Salunkhe of Utah State University confirmed that even tomatoes grown near a south pole of a magnet or near an open-ended horseshoe magnet ripened four to six times more quickly than those not near any magnetic fields. Seeds exposed to South Field influence also seemed to germinate more quickly and give higher yields at maturity, with the reverse effect from North Field influence.

Further research by the same source (Green Cove Springs, Florida) seemed to show that small animals, snakes and young chickens are also affected. In one experiment eight fertile eggs were exposed to south pole magnetic field of 2500 Gauss energy and a similar number to north pole energy, while a third group were kept away from any field influence at all. A separate magnet was used for each egg, and the eggs, kept at 80 degrees F., were turned every three hours.

Incubation time proved to be two or three days faster with the S-pole eggs, ,whereas the N-pole eggs took one or two days longer. After hatching, each of the chicks seemed to spend about two minutes time in turns one after another resting between the poles of the real magnet. They would then retire far from it while ignoring a dummy magnet painted to look just like the real one. The experiment was replicated many times, always with the same result. The control chicks also rested between the poles , but for longer (2.5 to 3.5 minutes) and they waited until they were dry after hatching, unlike the S-pole chicks, before exposing themselves to the magnet's field.

Subsequently the S-pole chicks grew faster and stronger than the others, but seemed less intelligent and more cannibalistic, though it is not stated what tests of this finding were made. The N-pole chicks were lighter eaters and in many ways more sensitive to their surroundings than the others, say the researchers. Finally the sex life of the N-pole chicks was limited and less active than the controls, while the S-pole chicks were much more active sexually, producing more sperm. Unfortunately one corollary of this was to shorten their lives, and make them more aggressive towards sex partners.

Comparable work with mice and rats seemed to produce similar effects. Whether one could apply these findings to human beings is unclear. These were the results reported from over 300 experiments over an eight year period.

Their early researchers into electricity and magnetism, and the inspiration of Galvani, Volta and later Marconi, have given the Italians a continuing scientific interest in their bio-effects. Today at Milan University's Physics department Emilio del Giudici, a short, plump, Roman-nosed man with a large head, is making his life's work the study of the interaction of magnetism and life. He, like other physicists, applies quantum field theory to these interactions, to explain how ordered biological systems can emerge from non-ordered sets of microscopic components.

Many of us would be surprised to see just how beautifully symmetrical a virus appears under the electron microscope, - as if it were a non-living crystal or metallic lattice of iron atoms elegantly arranged together. At this microscopic level there appears to the physicist and biologist alike to be little difference between the living organism and the non-living material. There is, of course, an essential difference: the organic structure somehow adapts and maintains itself and does not easily fall into atropy.

Woe betide any layperson trying to read one of del Guidici's scientific papers, even though they have been translated into English, (a language which he himself uses - somewhat quaintly - to deliver the lectures he gives around the world).

The gist of del Guidici's hypotheses, nevertheless, is crystal clear:

"Theoretical physics has had a harder life with living systems (where there are many types of microscopic components, and hundreds of molecular species in one cell) than with the much simpler systems investigated in solid-state physics", he admits. "Living systems can be affected by many agents in many ways", he continues, "but these influences add up to modifications of this basic parameter, the density of electric polarisation".

After discussing the physical mechanisms which might cause cells to be the size they are, he points out that ordered filamentary structures seem to depend on a narrow field-strength window so that tissue affected by carcinogenic transformation or viral infection will exhibit a microscopic order higher than that found in healthy tissues.

Thus transformed (i.e. cancerous) cells have a cytoskeleton with a few thick filaments instead of the rich finer network found in healthy cells. (See photo). "Moreover, transformed cells and viral materials exhibit an enhanced electric permittivity", he points out, "which implies a very low response to the electromagnetic signals coming from the environment". (If only he had said coming from the brain!).

What del Giudice appears to be saying is that the very structures of organic life depend vitally on external EM fields neither too powerful, otherwise they depolymerise or break up into their component elements like calcium, nor too low, or they are no longer held together by the field's influence.

This in turn implies two things: a) that organic multistructures exist in a pre-radiated field, and b) that externally influencing those fields will cause changes, even denaturing, of the multi-structures. Many decades before, Georges Lakhovsky had said the same thing: "Life and disease is simply a war of radiations".

Neither Lakhovsky nor del Giudice, however, have pointed out that cerebral radiations could be responsible for morphology, and the pre-radiated field, and though Harold Saxton Burr came very close to saying so, he lacked the physics to explain how it might occur.

Del Giudice does however recognise the two aspects of EM influence on the filamentary DNA:

"Since the EM field is a massive field and not purely transverse, this term (radiation pressure) has a longitudinal and a transverse component. The latter adds up to the gradient force, contributing to the overall stability of the filament; the former pushes molecules and ions along the filament in the wave direction.

" It is interesting to note", he adds, "that cytoplasm filaments have been recognised either at the place where most biochemical reactions occur, or as the main transport rail system of the cell".

Del Giudice's paper ends by pointing out (as would any tele-communications engineer) that the filaments would themselves emit low intensity coherent electromagnetic radiation. The engineer would prefer to say that all transmitters are also receivers, and vice versa, because of resonance effects. The empirical confirmation that living cells do emit ultraweak radiation was reported in 1986 by Fritz Albert Popp who had taken careful measurements of biophoton emissions from cucumber seeds.

Del Giudice concludes: "The assimilation of a multicellular biological system to an array of Josephson junctions (these are two semiconductors separated by a barrier) implies that external EM fields although very weak, could affect in a significant way the normal assets of the system. Experiments on Josephson devices usually require laboratories carefully screened against unwanted electromagnetic perturbations" (shades of W.E. Boyd!).

The often inconclusive results of cellular studies may indeed be due to lack of care in keeping out stray fields. My own laboratory is in a windowless below-ground basement, but that is not sufficient on its own to keep out radio signals, as I can confirm simply by switching on my radio set.

We have come a long way since Galvani's chance observation of a twitching frog's leg, and though much research still lies ahead before one can say for sure how organic morphology works, or how we might be so badly affected by electromagnetic fields, there are some glimmerings of light through the tunnel, with the physicist and the cellular biologist dimly able to discern each other peering down opposite ends.

Italy is not only among the first runners in the physics of organic life. It is also well up in the race to develop electrohealing. Another team from Modena's Institute of Normal Human Anatomy, headed by Dr. Vittoria Ottani, has been trying to see if pulsed ELF magnetic fields can speed up wound healing.

Bone Healing

Robert Becker had devoted many decades to showing not only that direct currents emanate from wounds as they heal (this had been known as early as 1860, and even in Volta's time) but that by applying a current in the right direction the healing process could be accelerated. In the early sixties he was working with Andrew Bassett of Columbia University when they first found that an externally applied voltage stimulated the growth of bone in a dog's tibia.

The best current strength appeared to be 5-50 microamps, below which there was no effect, and while stronger currents induced necrosis and gross tissue destruction. It was also important to deliver the current properly: by using a silver wire with a DC cathode electrode significantly less current was necessary. Even infected non-union fractures could be successfully treated in this way. The FDA approved some of the new techniques (both the pulsed coil method and the percutaneous method) with surprising alacrity. Becker's method involved surgical exposure so took a little longer, even though it used less current (0.1 to 5 microamps).

At the beginning of the 1970s reports were appearing from researchers like L.S Lavine and D.D. Levy who found that pulsed EM energy induced bone growth in many ways. J.D. Jacobs and co-workers applied the same techniques to periodontal defects.

By 1977 Andy Bassett and Arthur Pilla were reporting "inoperative salvage of non-unions" (they meant unmendable bone repair without any operations). Through the eighties Smith and Nagel, Wahlstrom, Haupt, Fontanesi, and other researchers had already reported positive results after applying pulsed ELF fields to ununited bone fractures (fractures where the shattered bone simply will not re-unite).

But not much before that time was known about using "PEMFs" as they are often called to regenerate soft tissue or for cell proliferation. Vittoria Ottani had by 1984 already reported that pulsed magnetic fields seemed to increase the rate of liver regeneration in rats where a part of it had been removed, and in another study Orgel and his co-workers related how peripheral nerve regeneration was assisted by the miraculous PEMFs.

Wound Healing

The application of EM fields to wounds, to see if they heal faster, has been a favourite research subject, not only using direct current, but also with higher frequencies. One of the earliest modern experiments was done in 1975. Instead of using power frequencies Shaposhnikov and his Soviet co -workers applied

microwaves at 4000uW/cm2 to guinea pigs whose backs had been subjected to a five cm. wound. Microscopic examination after eleven days showed that the exposed wounds were in a more advanced state of healing,and this was confirmed by the rather horrendous procedure of seeing how much more force was needed to re-open them: -from 30 percent to 72 percent more mechanical strain had to be applied to the exposed group of guinea pigs' skin to break open the wound again.

The first ever account of organic regeneration was by Spallanzini in 1768. The contribution of electromagnetism to regeneration however, was only realised in 1909, when O.E. Frazee was researching the effects of direct electrical current stimulation on rana pipiens and amblystoma Jeffersonianum (frogs and salamanders). He passed the current through the water in which they were kept, and found to his amazement that this seemed to increase the salamanders' rate of limb regeneration.

After this two other scientists, Harold Saxton Burr from Yale, and E.J. Lund from the University of Texas, carried out many experiments during the forties and found that applying similar currents to plants and other animals also increased their growth. Unfortunately their work was largely ignored at the time by the scientific community, who thought that it was simply the product of instrumental artefacts.

In a now famous set of experiments Marsh and Beams in 1952 showed that regeneration of a flatworm (planaria) could be altered by applying a direct current, even to the extent that the severed creature would begin to grow two heads, and that as the current strength was increased the tail would grow where the head had been!

The direction of the d.c. current was vital, since reversing the direction actually slowed up the growth process. It had been observed (by Humphrey and Seal) that rapidly growing tissues were electrically negative in polarity, with tumours being most negatively charged of all. So Humphrey and Seal first implanted malignant tumours in rats, and then attached copper or zinc anodes over the tumour masses and applied a 2 milliamp current for three hours a day.

In tests on 18 cases an an equal number of controls, the volume of the tumours in the controls was 7 times greater, -the rats all died within 31 days - while seven of the treated animals showed complete regression, and were still alive twelve months later.

Later, in a 1962 Science article, Huggins and Yang showed conclusively that carcinogenic agents produced their deadly effects by their capacity for electron transfer: the connection between electromagnetism and cancer was now staring the scientific community in the face, in the pages of one of their most prestigious journals.

Without this breakthrough, said Becker, "all other reports of growth effects could not be placed in a frame of reference acceptable to the scientific community".

But simple current flow did not by itself explain the healing process, as Becker himself realised:

"On the basis of these observations we theoretically divided regeneration into two separate but sequential phases: the first being the formation of a blastema (new young cellular growth) in response to a signal that is stimulating to the local cells and through their dedifferentiation produces the blastema. The information content of the signal responsible for the first phase is obviously sparse and may be correspondingly simple, whereas the signal responsible for the second phase must be capable of carrying an enormous amount of information (what structure is to be formed, what its orientation with respect to the rest of the body is to be and finally all the details of its complex structure).

" In our view, the DC potentials and currents generated at the site of injury by the DC control system were quite suitable as the signal for the first phase, whereas their information content was totally inadequate for the second phase. This concept meant there could be two mechanisms at fault in those animals normally incapable of regenerative growth. First the initial phase may fail to reproduce a blastema because of either an inadequate signal or an inability of the cells to respond to an adequate signal by de-differentiation.

"If an adequate blastema was formed, the second phase informational signal might be missing or inadequate to produce the subsequent redifferentiation and growth. Since it is common knowledge that nonregenerating animals fail in the first phase and do not produce blastema, and in view of our findings of the polarity differences between generators and nonregenerators in the first phase, we postulated that the initial stimulating signal was missing in the nonregenerating animals. Stimulation of this signal by external means was technically quite feasible; however, one could not predict whether the cells would be capable of responding to it or if they did, and a blastema was formed, whether the complex informational signal that controlled the second phase would be present".

What Becker perhaps failed to realise, - and what may well have cost him a well-deserved Nobel prize - was that embedded in the current flow - that is the flow of ions towards the wound - was an electromagnetic signal carrying all information necessary for regeneration and orientation of the individual cells. Furthermore, it seems from other research into negative ions that the signal can only be carried by negative ion flow, not positive.

Even so, Becker was very close when he said:

"It would now appear fairly certain that the specific sequence of changes in electrical potential that produce regenerative growth are themselves produced by the neuro-epidermal junction, and not by either the nerves or the epidermis alone. Intrinsic electromagnetic energy inherent in the nervous system of the body is therefore the factor that exerts the major controlling influence over growth processes in general. The nerves, acting in concert with some electrical factor of the epidermis, produce the specific sequence of electrical changes that cause limb regenerative growth. In animals not normally capable of regeneration this specific sequence of electrical changes is absent. However, it can be stimulated by artificial means. resulting in blastema formation and major regenerative growth even in mammals".

Because all electrons by their nature carry a negative charge, they will only be able to travel towards an attractive (and opposite) polarity. So these messengers, in flowing in their millions down any conductive filament or as EM fields through free space, in coherent waves convey the information necessary to initiate DNA synthesis of the relevant new cells. Whether by conduction or by induction through action at a distance is almost irrelevant, provided the vital messages get through.

This is why the polarities in healing wounds are as they are, a phenomenon which Becker reported, but could not explain. The enormous numbers of ions flowing when a current passes down a filament, or as a field through space are enormous: they sometimes calculated by the manufacturers of neg-ion machines anxious to show how effective they are: the figures are in the trillions per second.

During the healing process cells nearby the wound first dedifferentiate, that is they lose their specialist characteristics. Then they redifferentiate into the required special form needed for the wounded area. This process can happen so fast in salamanders that they can even repair wounds to the heart and survive before their blood runs away through the hole. If we could achieve the same effects by external assistance to our own serious wounds this would be truly a pinnacle of electrohealing.

In one of his most telling remarks, Becker points out that all cells carry the complete genetic programme or genome: "thus the nucleus of a muscle cell for example has the genome for muscle unrepressed and operating and the genomes for all the other cell types present but repressed. The genome produces the specialised cell type by governing the production of specific proteins which make up the cell itself. Dedifferentiation consists of de-repressing these repressed genomes so the cell returns to a more primitive, less differentiated level and now has the option to re-differentiate into a new cell type, depending on its local circumstances.

The control of that process can be conducted or induced by electromagnetic means.

Pulsed magnetic fields by themselves (without the electric component presumably, though it is hard to see how this could be avoided) are found to enhance human DNA synthesis, according to Abe Liboff who is one of the original proponents with Charles Polk of the idea of ion cyclotron resonance as the mechanism by which EM fields act on living cells. His research was inevitably confined to test tube studies, since experiments on living human beings are strictly controlled, even though we are all taking part in a massive biological experiment simply by living in any house with electric wiring!

With this body of accumulated research to guide her, Vittoria Ottani then tried in 1988 to see what happened when she made a 3cm. square skin wound on the backs of four-month old rats, then exposed the unfortunate creatures for some 30 minutes every 12 hours to PEMFs. (The pulse was a positive triangle at 50 Hertz, with a peak of 8 millitesla). At six, twelve, twenty-one, and forty two days the progress of the wound was evaluated using light and electron microscopy.

At the end of the 42 days the PEMF-treated rats had healed completely, while the control group still lacked 6 percent of the wound surface to be covered. The same stage had been reached by the exposed rats 21 days earlier. Moreover the treated rats showed earlier cellular organisation, collagen formation and other signs of healing.

Ottani concluded that she and her co-workers had succeeded where others like Cockshutt had failed (in 1984) because she had used slightly different frequencies and treatment duration, though precisely which parameters were responsible is still a mystery. There may have even been some other factor, - a lower general background EM environment for example - not taken into account.

One might wonder whether any U.K. research into PEMFs is being carried out. A joint team from Guys and Barts hospitals in London, under the leadership of Mary Dyson is actually doing this. She presented some of their research results at a conference in Birmingham in May 1990. She and her colleagues, including Richard Dixey from Barts, showed that the exposure of certain cells to particular wavelengths of visible light and low energy infra red d irradiation can increase the release of growth factors which stimulate healing processes.

Meanwhile Tiina Karu in Russia and Anton Kranmer in Austria were showing that Helium -Ne lasers and ordinary red light (which is really electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of 633 nanometres) could also stimulate DNA synthesis, and cell proliferation, while at Barts Hospital in London Richard Dixey and Glen Rein were detecting that nerve cells could be persuaded to release noradrenaline by exposing them to pulsed magnetic fields. But I discuss the effects of light in a separate chapter.