Upstate News

September 16, 2004
Doretta Royer 315 464-4833

SUNY Upstate study tests the effect magnetic field has on bone density

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — SUNY Upstate Medical University researchers are seeking individuals aged 18 to 80 years to participate in a study to test pulsing electromagnetic field (PEMF) as a noninvasive, nonpharmaceutical way to reduce or reverse regional bone loss that occurs after fracture or surgery. If successful, PEMF may prove an effective intervention for reducing osteoporotic fractures in susceptible individuals, particularly the elderly.

The three-year $750,000 study, sponsored by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), is being conducted by members of the Orthopedic Research Laboratory at SUNY Upstate’s Institute for Human Performance.

According to study coordinator Annie Pennella, the PEMF device induces a small electrical current signal in a specific skeletal region to stimulate bone formation. PEMF has been used successfully for years to promote fracture healing and enhance spine fusion. PEMF also improved bone density in animal models of osteoporosis.

“Our primary goal is to determine if PEMF reverses or reduces bone loss that normally occurs with disuse of the forearm after fracture or surgery, and to determine the effect of daily treatment duration on efficacy,” Pennella said.

The study seeks 80 volunteers who have recently had their arm in a cast or external fixator due to hand surgery or forearm fracture are being recruited. Each qualifying volunteer will receive free bone density measurements before and after the treatment. They will be asked to make four visits to the Institute for Human Performance.

Each eligible volunteer will be randomized to one of the active treatment groups or a control group. PEMF is administered through an electronically controlled transducer placed over the forearm for one, two or four hours each day for eight weeks, beginning six weeks or so after the initial injury or surgery. The self-contained, battery-powered PEMF unit is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for fracture healing in the forearm but is not currently approved for improving bone density. Volunteers in the control group will receive inactive but otherwise identical units and treatment times. The researchers will use DXA and other scans to compare each participant’s baseline bone density values to those taken after their course of treatment.

The study’s principal investigator, Joseph Spadaro, Ph.D., orthopedic research professor, adds that if PEMF does reduce or reverse bone loss in the forearm, it may be eventually tested for treating regional osteoporosis. “Such a noninvasive intervention applied to the hip or spine, which are especially associated with high morbidity and mortality in aging individuals, could have a significant national health care impact,” he said.

For more information on the study, contact Pennella at 315- 464-2663 (464-BONE) or

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