Ever wonder if maybe we could control stem cells by making changes at the subatomic level? Neither did we...until recently! But the possibilities for the therapeutic use of quantum phenomena are at the forefront of current biological research.
Above: Diagram of the proposed radical pair mechanism by which weak magnetic fields can change electron spin states of radicals.
The field of quantum biology centers on interdisciplinary research into the possible quantum underpinnings of biological processes. We are working with engineers, physicists, and (hopefully soon) chemists to determine whether exposure to weak magnetic fields (WMFs) could be used as a therapeutic tool to change the levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) during tissue growth. Physicists propose a radical pair mechanism by which weak magnetic fields can alter the spin state of electrons in radicals. This would have the consequence of either promoting or inhibiting the recombination of radicals, leading to a change in the amounts of ROS present in the cell. As our data has shown that ROS signaling regulates the proliferation of stem cells, this quantum biology research dovetails nicely with our work on ROS signaling.
Our work has shown that exposure to WMFs is able to both inhibit and promote tissue growth during planarian regeneration. This occurs in a field strength-dependent manner, where exposure to different field strengths results in either an increase in ROS (and thus more new tissue or blastema growth) or a decrease in ROS (preventing blastema growth). Our current goal is to determine whether these effects are due to quantum phenomena as hypothesized, and to determine the full range of exposure effects.
Above: The amount of new tissue (blastema) growth during planarian regeneration when exposed to a range of weak magnetic field strengths.
Right: Images of blastema growth (white tissues, solid arrows) at control (45 uT) and inhibiting (200 uT) field strengths.