Although exercise is usually the best way of building muscle, there are cases where people need a little help – such people can include those who are frail, or are laid up by injuries. That's where a new prototype device could come in, that uses magnetic fields to "fool" muscles into thinking they're being used.

Known as MRegen, the machine was developed by a team at the National University of Singapore, led by Assoc. Prof. Alfredo Franco-Obregón.

"The device provides a uniform electromagnetic field to a muscle area at a magnitude and pulse duration that reproduces the same regenerative, energetic and metabolic responses as physical activity," he explains. "The duration of use for the device has been optimized for providing the largest therapeutic effect in terms of muscle equality, function and metabolic stability. The device is especially useful in reducing muscle degradation in periods when physical activity is not possible."

The technology has already been the subject of two human trials, which took place between 2015 and 2017. In the first of these, 10 healthy test subjects received 10 minutes of MRegen treatment on one of their legs, once a week for five consecutive weeks. After that period was over, they were found to have an average 30- to 40-percent improvement in muscle strength.

In the second trial, the device was used on 10 patients who had undergone anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee surgery. Those volunteers also received normal rehabilitation therapy. When compared to a control group of 10 ACL surgery patients who only got the regular rehab therapy, the MRegen group "experienced a recovery in muscle size and strength in their operated leg four weeks earlier."

They additionally had up to a 50-percent improvement in muscle metabolism, which is a key indicator of muscle health and regenerative capacity. No side effects were reported.

Interestingly, in both trials, the leg that did not receive MRegen treatment also showed an increase in muscle strength. This phenomenon has been observed before in the field of strength training, and is called the contralateral effect.

"Muscle makes up 40 per cent of an average person's body mass, and plays a major role in regulating one's body, health and longevity," says Franco-Obregón. "If we can harness the ability to regulate muscle development, we may gain greater control of the overall human health. MRegen, which has proven to be non-invasive and effective in regenerating muscles, can be easily modified to treat other human diseases."

The system is now being commercialized by spinoff company QuantumTX.