Remote Stimulation of Cells Has Potential

BUFFALO, N.Y., July 7 (UPI) — Heated magnetic nanoparticles aimed at cell membranes can control ion channels, neurons and even an animal’s behavior, U.S. physicists found.

The research has applications beyond making worms reverse course — as University of Buffalo physicists found — potentially leading to innovative cancer treatments, improved diabetes therapies or even development of new therapies for some neurological disorders, the university said Tuesday in a news release.

“By developing a method that allows us to use magnetic fields to stimulate cells both in vitro and in vivo, this research will help us unravel the signaling networks that control animal behavior,” said Arnd Pralle, assistant professor of physics in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences and senior corresponding author of the paper published in the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

Researchers said their method could open calcium ion channels, activate neurons in cell culture and manipulate movements of a tiny nematode, Pralle said.

The team targeted the nanoparticles near the “mouth” of the worms and observed they reversed course when the nanoparticles were heated to about 93 degrees F, which is the threshold in nature that provokes an avoidance response, he said.

“We could use this method to make them go back and forth,” Pralle said. “Now we need to find out which other behaviors can be controlled this way.”

The team developed a method of heating nanoparticles in a cell membrane by exposing them to a radio frequency magnetic field.

“We have developed a tool to heat nanoparticles and then measure their temperature,” Pralle said, adding that not much is known about heat conduction in tissue at the nanoscale.

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