The use of magnets to create motion in electric motors is an indispensable technology of modern industry. Now, a new discovery at Temple University, Philadelphia, may place magnets on an even higher pedestal as lifesaving devices for people with heart disease. Why? If blood gets too thick, it can damage vessels and elevate the risk of heart attacks. A physicist at Temple University, Rongjia Tao, has discovered that he can thin human blood by using a magnetic field.

Tao has already pioneered the use of electric or magnetic fields to decrease oil viscosity in engines and pipelines. He's now using these same forces and concepts to thin human blood in the circulation system. Because red blood cells contain iron, Tao is able to reduce a person's blood viscosity by 20% to 30% by subjecting it to a magnetic field of 1.3 Telsa — similar to an MRI — for approximately one minute.

Through extensive blood sample testing, Tao and his research team found that the magnetic field polarizes red blood cells, which streamlines blood flow by causing cells to link together in short chains. Because chains are larger than single cells, they flow down the center of blood vessels, reducing friction against vessel walls; this reduces blood viscosity, helping it flow more freely. When the magnetic field is removed, the blood's original viscosity slowly returns over several hours.

Today, the only way to thin the blood is with drugs such as aspirin that sometimes cause negative side effects. Tao says the magnetic field method is not only safer, but also easily repeatable. Further studies are needed, but Tao hopes to develop the technology into a heart disease prevention therapy. Study findings are published in the journal Physical Review E. For more information, visit temple.edu/newsroom.