Magnets and medicine

MRI scanner

Magnets and medical research have a long and interconnected history. Life-saving diagnosis is made possible by MRI scanners that rely on the power of magnets, magnetic technology has a vital role in some of the most pioneering medical research and many believe in the opinion-splitting therapeutic benefits of magnets. This post will look at all three areas.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans

Since the first human full body MRI scan was performed in July, 1977 the introduction of MRI scanners has undoubtedly led to thousands of lives being saved every year as abnormal tissue and potentially terminal diseases such as cancer can be diagnosed and treated earlier.

MRI scanners produce their detailed images of soft tissue in the human body using incredibly powerful magnetic fields. The human body is made up of approximately 45-75% water and water includes hydrogen (as well as oxygen) which has a nucleus of a single proton. Each tiny proton can be likened to a magnet in the fact that each one generates a magnetic field with a north and a south pole and under normal circumstances these protons within the body are all randomly aligned. When a patient is placed within the super-strong magnetic fields produced by an MRI scanner, the vast majority of protons align uniformly, but not all and it is the ones that don’t align that hold the key. After the magnetic field is applied, a radio frequency wave is passed through the body and this causes the unaligned protons to change the direction in which they are spinning. When the radio frequency wave is turned off, the protons affected return to their previous state, emitting signals which provide information about the location of protons in the body. This data is captured and converted into an image made possible because of the rate of which the protons in different types of tissue return to their normal state.

Some MRI scanners use large assemblies of permanent rare earth magnets while others use superconducting electromagnets and both types have their advantages. The advantage of permanent magnet MRI scanners is that they are inexpensive to maintain but the fields they produce are significantly weaker than those produced by superconducting electromagnets. Superconducting electromagnet scanners are extremely expensive to construct but despite this are the most common design. It is accepted that superconducting electromagnet MRI scanners produce higher quality images as the field strength produced is a major criterion for image quality and it is possible to generate a much higher field strength using a superconducting electromagnet assembly than can be achieved with permanent magnets.

 

Research

The use of magnetism and magnetic fields in clinical medical research is centred on nanoparticle studies. For some time, scientists and engineers have been researching the possibility of using magnetic fields to drive magnetic nanoparticles around the body of a patient. Although much of the research is in the early stages it is hoped that one day this type of treatment will help prevent and cure diseases such as heart disease and cancer by using magnetically guided nanoparticles to deliver DNA, cells and drugs to where they are needed in the human body.

 

Magnets for pain relief

Many people believe that magnets, specifically magnetic fields, have therapeutic benefits, however, to say that the efficacy of this type of treatment splits opinion would be an understatement. For every person that swears by magnetic therapy, there is a piece of research that claims it is nothing more than pseudoscience.

Here’s what I understand magnetic therapy to be. It is essentially the application of magnets to a site of pain or discomfort on the body so that the magnetic field produced by the magnet can penetrate the tissue requiring treatment.

People that do believe in magnet therapy claim that it is the magnetic field emitted by the north pole of a magnet that has the potential to provide therapeutic benefits and relieve persistent symptoms from conditions such arthritis, a bad back, headaches and abdominal cramps to name a few.

Although there is a lack of bona fide medical evidence to support the claims that it works we are contacted by customers who have bought magnets for use in magnetic therapy to tell us that they are really pleased with the results. Our advice is never choose magnetic therapy for any ailment before seeing a medical professional about your condition.

About Matt Newby

Matt Newby is part of a group of people that have a passion for magnets and their endless possibilities. As part of the marketing team at first4magnets.com Matt's aim is to create great magnet-related technical content and help people understand how magnets can be used.

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