A comparison of healthy and inflamed synovial joints. (Image: NASA)

Innovators at NASA Johnson Space Center researching time-variance magnetic field (TVMF) therapies have developed a pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) device that can alleviate cartilage degradation in synovial joints by promoting the growth of new cartilage.

Joint disorders result in intense pain. Noninvasive and painless regeneration of a patients own tissue offers fewer side-effects than surgical joint replacement or tissue engineering procedures. The PEMF device could be wrapped around synovial joints where cartilage-degrading inflammation is located.

In initial studies, cultured human chondrocyte cells (HCH) from patients with early-stage osteoarthritis were exposed to PEMF stimulation using a variety of tuned electro-magnetic pulse characteristics such as flux magnitude, slew rates, rise and fall times, frequency, wavelength, and duty cycle. Waveforms used in testing were monophasic, bi-phasic, square, sinusoidal, and triangular in nature.

Frequencies were generally low, ranging from 6-500 Hz, and the waveforms used high rising and falling slew rates on the order of Tesla/sec, promoting pulses or bursts. Cellular catabolic and anabolic gene expression analyses comprised of fold-change were accomplished by a survey of 47,000 human genes using an AFFYMETRIX Gene Array.

Results show that variation of waveform used in PEMF therapies, independent of flux intensity, influences genetic regulation of HCH from patients with early-stage osteoarthritis. The device has potential to be used in the treatment of cartilage degenerative joint disorders in patients resulting from rheumatism, trauma, or surgery.

NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact NASA’s Licensing Concierge at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call at 202-358-7432 to initiate licensing discussions. For more information, visit here .



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This article first appeared in the November, 2022 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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