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What is the "electroma?"

The human body's bioelectrical network that scientists are just beginning to investigate (and how it can revolutionize cancer treatment)

The human body is full of electrically charged atoms (ions) that circulate through our cells generating a current.

In recent decades, much of the scientific research that sought to uncover how the human body works focused on studying three key systems: the genome, the proteome and the microbiome.

The first is the DNA sequence that each organism possesses and that contains all its genetic information. The second, the set of proteins that make genes, which are the "essential bricks"of life. And the third is the ecosystem of microorganisms that live in the body and are determinants for health.

Now interest is beginning to grow in another system that is fundamental to life, not only human but also plant and animal: the bioelectrical network that makes every organism work, and which some scientists have begun to call the " electroma".

"Just as electrical signals underpin the world's communication networks , we are finding that they do the same thing in our bodies: bioelectricity is how our cells communicate . among themselves," explained in a recent article on the Nesta site the science communicator Sally Adee, an expert in this field, and author of the book "We are electric", which will come out in February.

According to Adee — whom some credit with coining the neologism "electroma" — "it's hard to overstate how totally and absolutely all your movements, perceptions, and thoughts, and mine, are controlled by electricity."

Understanding the electroma is key, he says, because by intervening in the body's bioelectrical process we can "fix it when something goes wrong, whether it's trauma, birth defects or cancer."

How it works

Mustafa Djamgoz, emeritus professor in cancer biology at Imperial College London, is one of the first scientists to apply bioelectricity to treat the disease.

Djamgoz, who also teaches neurobiology at the prestigious British university, has been studying the body's bioelectrical processes for decades and since 2019 is the co-editor-in-chief of "Bioelectricity". ", the only scientific journal dedicated to this field.

But before understanding how he uses bioelectricity to treat cancer, BBC Mundo asked him to explain what it is and how this current is generated inside us.

"All the elements we have in our bodies, for example, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and zinc , go through a chemical reaction that causes them to go through a chemical reaction that causes them to become separate their atoms, forming what are known as ions, which are particles with electric charge," he says. The fluids in our body are filled with these ions. Those with opposite charges attract, those with the same charge are rejected. And when they circulate through our body they generate a current."

The expert clarifies that it is a very low power current: just 70 millivolts (a common AA battery has 1,500 millivolts, compare).

But the body's bioelectricity is essential for its functioning, he says, since it is through these electrical signals that the various parts of the body communicate.

Basic Law

Djamgoz points out that the body's bioelectrical network works under the same fundamental principles that apply to every electrical circuit, including Ohm's law (which states that voltage is equivalent to current). multiplied by resistance).

The big difference is that while traditional electricity moves along the conductive core within a wire, bioelectricity is generated by ions flowing through the cell membrane (the sheath).

Since the membrane is like a seal, to penetrate the cell the ions must pass through a kind of gate: proteins called "ion channels", which are embedded in the membrane.

When they flow through these channels, electrical conduction occurs.

The expert finds it paradoxical that the bioelectrical system has been much less studied than others that govern the body, for example, the genome, since it is much less difficult to understand.

"We have 22,000 genes and each person has a different genetic makeup, that's why we have personalized medicine. But in bioelectricity there is only one fundamental law, which applies to everyone," he says.

It also highlights that all the cells and tissues of our body – neurons, nerves, muscles, cartilage, intestine, etc. – use the same process to communicate.

"When we think about the electrical properties of the body the first thing we think of is the brain, the heart and the muscles, but the reality is that even the microbes in our gut, Theimmune system and cancer cells generate electrical signals," he says.

"Bioelectricity really is one of the most fundamental forces or mechanisms of nature," he says.


Going back to how Djamgoz applies bioelectricity to slow the progression of cancer, the revolutionary treatment he is developing has to do with the way electrical signals are transmitted. inside the body.

As we already mentioned, to enter and leave cells, ions – or atoms with electric charge – use ion channels, proteins that are in the membranes of cells. They function as gates: when opened, the ion can pass through.

In the case of cancer, which is basically a disease that occurs when cells grow and spread uncontrollably, these ion channels play a fundamental role, he explains, since "they are the that control cell proliferation and migration."

Thanks to research that began in the 1990s, the expert and his team discovered a revealing fact: that cancer cells become aggressive – that is, they tend to multiply and spread. when they are "electrically excitable".

"Cancer cells generate a buzz of electrical activity and this makes them overactive," he explains.

The data, he says, is very important, because "the problem with cancer is not having a tumor. You can live with a tumor, as long as it's local. The big problem is when cancer spreads, a process we call metastasis."

The scientist discovered that the key to curbing that overactive growth was to close the electrical floodgates of those cells. That is, blocking ion channels, more specifically sodium ion channels, which are responsible for causing the "electronic excitation" that promotes cancer growth.

Using drugs to block these channels, he was able to stop the proliferation and spread of cancer cells in animals. Their next challenge is testing on humans, a much more complex process.

However, he says he already has indications that the technique might also work in people.

In late 2022, William Brackenbury, an expert in biomedical sciences at the University of York in the United Kingdom and a former PhD student of Djamgoz, published the results of an epidemiological study that he analyzed Information on 53,000 cancer patients (of three types: breast, prostate and colon).

About 150 of those patients also had chronic angina, a coronary heart disease that is treated using a drug called ranolazine, which blocks sodium ion channels in low-oxygen conditions that are also treated. It occurs in tumors that grow.

The work showed that those people who took the blocker survived on average 60% longer than the rest of the cancer patients who were not taking that drug.

"Drugs like ranolazine can turn aggressive cancers into a benign, that is, non-metastatic state, allowing patients to live with cancer chronically, such as diabetes. This also eliminates the toxic and undesirable side effects of treatments such as chemotherapy."

Djamgoz has already patented its cancer treatment using a sodium ion channel blocker in several countries including the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Australia and the United States.

Other medical uses

But bioelectricity doesn't just have potential for curing cancer.

That same "electronic excitation" that causes cancer cells to multiplycan be used for a positive purpose: healing wounds.

As Adee explains, skin cells were found to "generate an electric field when injured."

" The wound stream calls into the surrounding tissue, attracting helpers like healing agents, macrophages to clear the mess, and collagen tissue repair cells called fibroblasts," he notes.

In 2012, scientist Richard Nuccitelli managed to measure the electrical current of wounds and found that it increases when the injury is in, decreases as the wound heals and becomes undetectable again when the wound is completed. healing.

It also found that people whose injury current was weak healed more slowly than people whose injury current was "stronger" and that the strength of the wound current. It decreases with age, emitting a signal that is only half as strong in those over 65 as in those under 25, says the expert in her article.

This finding has led some scientists to try to stimulate the body's natural electricity to speed up wound healing.

Two studies published in the last decade on the treatment of one of the most difficult wounds to heal, bedsores, which especially affect people who are bedridden, showed that stimulation electric "almost doubled its cure rate," Adee says, citing the work of Koel and Hoghton in 2014 and Girgis and Duarte in 2018 .

The science communicator points out that there is even evidence that the same technique can accelerate the healing of fractured bones.

Why is it not used?

But the big question is: if there is already research showing that the body's bioelectricity can be altered to help heal us, why aren't doctors applying these techniques?

Djamgoz says that the main reasons are threefold.

"First, that the medical profession is very conservative. It takes a long time for ideas to change. If you take, for example, the case of cancer: we still treat it using chemotherapy, radiotherapy and techniques and methods of treatment that are more than 50 years old," he says.

Part of this conservatism has to do with the fact that "we are dealing with human life," he says, and there is fear of making mistakes.

But in practice, when someone wants to try "something that is out of the ordinary, the instinctive reaction is to oppose it."

"One of the reasons there aren't more people taking risks is that there is no funding. People want to play it safe," he says.

A second factor why investment in this field is lacking is commercial, he says.

"Big pharma that develops expensive drugs don't necessarily want this kind of medication, which is cheap."

The third and final reason listed by Professor Djamgoz is more curious: to use bioelectricity you have to understand a little physics and "the average doctor or biologist is afraid" of this scientific discipline, he says.

"There's almost like a prejudice... they say, 'Oh my God, this is physical, I don't understand it.'"

Adee cites a 2019 study by Germany's Goethe University and the University of New Mexico in the U.S. that "found that the idea that electricity is relevant in biology is still too novel and counterintuitive. for wide acceptance."

"Even when doctors have heard of this, they don't know how to use it," he says.

Two of the scientists who participated in that study, which looked at why few orthopedic surgeons use electrical stimulation to heal fractures – "even though it works so well" – agreed with the Imperial College professor on the first two points.

But Russian regenerative medicine expert Liudmila Leppik and American-Argentine plastic surgeon and orthopedic specialist John Barker told BBC Mundo that they did not believe that doctors' lack of knowledge about physics is one of the the problems.

"I don't think any of us doctors deeply understand the mechanisms of how any of the drugs we give patients work, and yet we administer them every day. " said Barker, who worked for decades with electrical stimulation and is now retired.

For his part, Leppik opined that "the average doctor and biologist studied physics in college and I think he understands the basics of electricity. But they also understand how little they know about cellular reactions to electricity."

In that sense, the work in which both collaborated showed that there are no clear guidelines that specify how to use electricity in a clinic or an operating table.

It is not even clear whether direct or alternating current should be used, how long it should be applied, and how strong it should be.

Another key factor the study showed is that there are still no standardized tools that doctors can use with their patients.

"A matter of time"

Despite these limitations, experts agree on the enormous potential of the field of bioelectricity.

"It's one of the major developments that are about to happen. It's only a matter of time," predicts Djamgoz, who notes that funding for this scientific area is increasing.

Barker, meanwhile, warns that, although the potential is undoubted, science does not usually grow linearly.

"Electricity serves to heal. Period. There is a lot of research that proves it. But 40 or 50 years ago we also knew that electronic cars had many advantages, and yet it took Elon Musk's madman, who gambled investing in that industry, to change the status quo," he observes.

The expert believes that interest in using electricity for medical purposes will surely grow now that "the field of microelectronics is exploding."

"I have no doubt that it will be a breakthrough. All that's left is for them to develop an easy-to-use device."


Djamgoz MBA, Levin M, 2022, Another Leap Forward for Bioelectricity, BIOELECTRICITY, Vol: 4, Pages: 189-189, ISSN: 2576-3105

Author Web Link Cite JOURNAL ARTICLE

Djamgoz MBA, 2022, Bioelectricity Industry News, Bioelectricity, Vol: 4, Pages: 186-188, ISSN: 2576-3105

Djamgoz MBA, Levin M, 2022, Bioelectricity: An Update, BIOELECTRICITY, Vol: 4, Pages: 135-135, ISSN: 2576-3105

Yerlikaya S, Djamgoz MBA, 2022, Oleamide, a Primary Fatty Acid Amide: Effects on Ion Channels and Cancer, BIOELECTRICITY, Vol: 4, Pages: 136-144, ISSN: 2576-3105

Author Web Link Cite JOURNAL ARTICLE

Djamgoz MBA, 2022, Combinatorial Therapy of Cancer: Possible Advantages of Involving Modulators of Ionic Mechanisms, CANCERS, Vol: 14


Qiu S, Fraser SP, Pires W, Djamgoz MBAet al., 2022, Anti-invasive effects of minoxidil on human breast cancer cells: combination with ranolazine, CLINICAL & EXPERIMENTAL METASTASIS, Vol: 39, Pages: 679-689, ISSN: 0262-0898

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