Through quantum biology to new therapeutic approaches

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Illustration_Quantum Biology_FO Illustration on quantum biology: hydrogen atoms Illustration_Quantum Biology_FO Illustration on quantum biology: hydrogen atoms and animal cell. © Fabian Oswald
Researchers at the University of Innsbruck investigated the effect of nuclear magnetic resonance on cryptochrome, an important protein of the "internal clock". To their surprise, the results of the experiments could only be explained by quantum mechanical principles - and could enable completely new therapeutic approaches.

Metabolism in mammalian cells can be controlled by resonances of hydrogen protons generated by a magnetic field in combination with a corresponding radio wave. This result came as such a surprise to the scientists from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Innsbruck that they had to rewrite their publication without further ado. "We didn’t realize at first that our work was in the field of quantum biology," explains Margit Egg, head of the study.

Egg, who heads the Chronobiology Group at the Institute of Zoology, conducted the study, which has just been published in the scientific journal "iScience," together with her doctoral student Viktoria Thöni. Publications in this journal are usually relevant to several disciplines. So is the one by Egg and Thöni: it provides important observations for both quantum physics and medical research.

"Quantum biology has been an established field of research for decades, but in the public perception it still tends to eke out a niche existence," explains Egg. "Quantum biology deals with all processes in living things that cannot be explained by classical physical laws, but only by principles of quantum mechanics." Among other things, photosynthesis, the sense of orientation and presumably also the sense of smell and consciousness are based on quantum biological mechanisms.

In resonance with the inner clock

In the study, the therapy form of nuclear magnetic resonance (tNMR) was used to irradiate mouse cells and thereby stimulate the protein cryptochrome. Cryptochrome is an important part of the so-called "internal clock." It plays a decisive role in the day-night rhythm of most living organisms and is present in all body cells.

Nuclear magnetic resonance therapy, which was developed by the German company MedTec from Wetzlar, is in a sense the "light" version of an MRI. By combining a magnetic field with a corresponding radio wave, hydrogen protons enter into resonance and absorb energy, which they release back into the cell after the therapy. Because of the much weaker magnetic field used in tNMR and the correspondingly lower radio frequency, the treatment is gentle and has been used for two decades to treat osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and to regenerate ligaments and tendons.

"Originally, we simply wanted to test the effect of nuclear magnetic resonance on cryptochrome. I suspected that this might also have an effect on mammalian cells. However, that turned out to be a gross understatement," Egg says.

The results showed that nuclear magnetic resonance changed the entire metabolism of the cell. Among other things, energy production by glucose, glycolysis, was shut down. As a result, the cells produced much less lactate under low-oxygen conditions than would otherwise be the case. Although the metabolism was thus significantly restricted, the respiration of the cells remained constant.

New approaches for quantum physics and medicine

These results are significant in two ways. "The results we measured should not actually be present at the low radio frequency we used. This makes tNMR very interesting for quantum physics because you can use it to study the effects of proton resonances. The reaction of the cryptochrome that we observed during the treatment is called the radical-pair mechanism. This is known as the "quantum compass" and helps migratory birds navigate, for example. Now we see this effect in mammalian cells, and at a much lower radio frequency that does not drive electrons, but hydrogen protons. How this can be is a highly interesting question to pursue," says Egg.

Some new approaches for medical research are also emerging. The effect of proton resonances on metabolism, especially under low oxygen supply, could make tNMR an effective first-line treatment for damage caused by blocked oxygen supply.

"Much of the damage that follows strokes, thromboses or heart attacks occurs when blood supply is restored and tissues are suddenly flooded with oxygen. This creates free radicals that damage the brain or heart muscle," Egg explains. Because tNMR maintains cellular respiration while the rest of the metabolism is inactive, the technology could be used to gently restart the organism after an interrupted oxygen supply. Tumors also undergo large amounts of glycolysis and produce lactate, which is why the results of the study are promising for cancer research.

Egg and Thöni also want to focus more on quantum biology in the future; among other things, Egg wants to cover the topic more extensively in her teaching - there is already great interest among students.


Viktoria Thöni, David Mauracher, Anil Ramalingam, Birgit Fiechtner, Adolf Michael Sandbichler, Margit Egg: Quantum based effects of therapeutic nuclear magnetic resonance persistently reduce glycolysis, iScience, Volume 25, Issue 12, 2022,