Bioelectromagnetics

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Figure Caption: A mouse in its polycarbonate cage. The cage sits within a mu-metal enclosure that provides shielding from ambient static and extremely low frequency magnetic fields. The door of the box is open in this picture but closed during experimental procedures. The enclosure is fitted with rectangular coils that can reintroduce specific magnetic fields to determine their biological effects. See: Prato et al 2011 Bioelectromagnetics 32:561-569.
Future Directions

The group continues to strengthen and extend its fundamental research effort with two main perspectives: continue to provide operational results to regulating agencies and continue to develop new non-invasive therapeutic technologies to treat specific disorders. New projects aiming to establish thresholds at which a neurophysiological response is systematically induced by a magnetic stimulus are currently being developed and initiated. Computational neuroscience is being promoted as a new promising window to understand the underlying electromagnetic interactions at the micro- and macroscopic scales. We propose that the predictions from mathematical modeling is systematically analysed in conjunction with experimental results to strengthen the hypothesized theoretical ground.

The Bioelectromagnetics (BEMS) group has an international reputation and expertise in research regarding the biological effects of static and time-varying magnetic field (MF) exposures and stimulations. This multidisciplinary team of scientists and students is working toward a common general objective: understanding the mechanisms by which a MF interacts with biological systems. Rather than focus only on what potential harmful effects there may be, they are working towards a new understanding and to develop a new technology. Their research program is divided into interdisciplinary projects, each targeting specific magnetic stimuli (static vs. time-varying, low vs. high flux density), and each bringing its contribution at a different level to address this general objective.

Researchers
A.W. Thomas
Director, BEMS Group, Neuromodulation
F.S. Prato
BEMS, Lawson Imaging Program Leader, MR and Nuclear Medicine Phsyics
A. Legros
BEMS, Kinesiology
J. Théberge
MRI Physics
L. Keenliside
Medical Devices
Technologies
3T PET/MR
Bioelectromagnetics
Human Threshold Testing Facility
Optical Imaging
Prototype Facility

Collaborators
D. Moulin
Pain management
D.S. Lee
Neonatal Imaging
R.Z. Stodilka
Nuclear Medicine Physics, Theoretical Modelling
Y. Bureau
Inferential Statistics
D. Goldhawk
Biology
L. Hoffman
Muscular Dystrophy
R.T. Thompson
MRI, Facility Director
Key Accomplishments

It is recognized that MFs have biological effects. Not all effects are ‘harmful’. This new knowledge aims to provide mechanistic information to help discriminate between ‘harmful’ and ‘non-harmful’ effects, and to provide an era of therapeutic development and exploitation. For example, although through its Human Threshold Testing Facility the group has described subtle modulations of motor control and brain activation associated with 60 Hz MF exposure, they have also confirmed the absence of deleterious effects of power-line frequency MF on human neuroprocessing. With their animal projects, they have shown and replicated a consistent analgesic effect of earth MF shielding in mice (see figure). Interestingly, this effect seems to be cancelled by the reintroduction of weak time-varying MF within the shielded environment, and this needs to be further investigated. The analgesic effect found at first in snails and then in mice motivated human investigation, and the group indeed demonstrated that a specific pulsed MF can modulate pain perception (and associated brain activation) in humans.  

These achievements are not only contributing to the enrichment of the scientific base used by international agencies such as ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) to develop and support international guidelines regulating human exposure to electromagnetic fields, but are also proposing fundamental mechanisms of action possibly supporting the development of new therapeutic strategies to treat chronic symptoms (i.e. chronic pain).

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