From the time she was a young child, Marcy Purnell has asked a lot of questions. But for the first 22 years of her nursing career, becoming a nurse scientist was not on her radar. That changed in 2008, when a close colleague lost her battle with breast cancer.
“Another colleague was searching for alternative therapies to help this colleague in her final days,” says Purnell, PhD, APN, FNP-C, Tenet Health System/Jo Ellen Smith, BSN Endowed Chair of Nursing and Associate Professor of Nursing. “She found an electromagnetic hydrotherapy technology that was very intriguing in a local day spa and suggested I try it as well. After taking her advice, my inquisitive side reemerged and I began to ask questions that no one could answer.”
At that time, Dr. Purnell was working as a nurse practitioner and a clinical investigator at a Clinical Trials unit. She launched a collaboration with some research physicians in that department to apply for a National Institutes of Health Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant that would allow them to begin a research study on this technology.
“At this point, I realized I would need to pursue a PhD if I intended to become a principal investigator, so I set out on this new journey in life,” Dr. Purnell says. “Since this technology applied an electromagnetic field to living things, and its effect on living cells was basically unknown, I approached Michael A. Whitt, Chair of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry at University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, in hopes of pursuing some experimental studies.”
Under the guidance and expertise of Dr. Whitt, Dr. Purnell initiated a body of research that has laid a strong foundation on which to build years of research in the quantum physics area of bioelectrodynamics.
“I think nurses often underestimate the value they can bring to research in many areas,” Dr. Purnell says. “It is important to encourage nurses to ask important questions in order to investigate and ultimately offer new and greatly needed evidence-based therapies.”
Harnessing Magnetic Energy for Healing
Dr. Purnell’s research to date has taken her from the experiment bench to animal models, and then to human pilot studies. She hopes to begin efficacy studies in the near future investigating bioelectrodynamics in holistic healing applications for cancer, wound care and sickle cell disease.
Bioelectrodynamics seeks to understand and reveal important roles that electromagnetism may play in biology and the biophysical functions of living organisms.
“The discovery of electrical signals in plants, animals and humans was made centuries ago,” Dr. Purnell says. “We currently diagnose with these electromagnetic signals using technologies such as EEG, ECG and MRI. The data from this research strongly suggests there’s potential to also develop adjunct therapies and treatments using electromagnetic signals for pathologies such as cancer and sickle cell disease, as well as for wounds and to aid athlete recovery.”
The data derived from research into electromagnetic field hydrotherapy suggests that water and molecular attractions are able to harness a magnetic energy that is sufficient to drive a cell’s metabolic functions and can be viewed as a battery charger for the body, Dr. Purnell explains.
“Our in-vitro data suggest that this magnetic energy source significantly decreases cell stress, the basis for all disease, in noncancerous cells while sending cancerous cells into apoptosis, which is programmed cell death,” Dr. Purnell says. “Due to the holistic nature of these applications, nurse scientists can play a significant role on future research teams that seek to investigate these applications.”
Exploring Applications for Sickle Cell Patients and Athletes
Dr. Purnell recently published a novel mechanism in the journal Discovery Medicine that suggests a previously unrecognized cascade of events that may trigger crises in sickle cell patients.
Sickle cell disease occurs due to a genetic mutation on the hemoglobin protein in the red blood cell. Since its identification in 1949, most research for treatments for this devastating disease have focused on this mutation.
As an extension of her bioelectrodynamic research journey, Dr. Purnell also took an interest in and developed a focus on the unique physiology of the red blood cell. In sickle cell disease, red blood cells degrade into the shape of a ‘sickle’ when patients experience a vaso-occlusive crisis, she explains, but the events that lead to crises have been poorly defined and understood to date.
“I began to look beyond the hemoglobin to study the components of the red blood cell cytoskeleton that form its unique shape. During this study, I identified the role of actin in the red blood cell cytoskeleton and how its interaction with serum glucose (within the mutated hemoglobin) and serum electrolytes may, through metabolic changes, alter actin physiology,” Dr. Purnell says. “This finding has the potential to offer insight into several aspects of the care of these patients with regard to nutrition and hydration treatments/guidelines as well as blood glucose monitoring and diagnosis of diabetes in this population. Due to the significance of this finding, and the potential for it to impact patient care in this underserved population, this is currently the immediate focus of my research.”
Dr. Purnell is also beginning to focus on athlete recovery from soft tissue injuries and concussions and as it pertains to overall stamina.
“When I conducted a human pilot study with this electromagnetic hydrotherapy technology, I was surprised to find that the amount of oxidative stress that top-performing athletes displayed was often well above the other non-athlete participants,” she says. “The stress levels they continually put their bodies under in their daily training and competitive activities may have more deleterious health effects than we previously realized. The data strongly suggest a need for research on ways to reduce this oxidative stress and hopefully prevent and treat injury, as well as prevent early onset of unwanted health issues in this underserved population.”
“It is important to encourage nurses to ask important questions in order to investigate and ultimately offer new and greatly needed evidence-based therapies.”
Marcy Purnell, PhD, APN, FNP-C
Dr. Purnell currently has a manuscript under review from a bioelectrodynamics human pilot study that is the foundation for future human efficacy studies, and she has been asked to write a book chapter for Noble Metals Recent Advanced Studies and Applications titled “The Influence of Diamagnetic Copper on the Bernoulli Effect in Biological Systems.” The chapter further explains some important bioelectrodynamic concepts in this research. She’s also partnering on another publication detailing the care of sickle cell patients in the perioperative period.
Laying Foundations for the Future
Dr. Purnell says her appointment as the Tenet Health System/Jo Ellen Smith, BSN Endowed Chair of Nursing at the LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing comes with incredible opportunities for research with vulnerable and underserved populations at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans.
Dr. Purnell says her endowed chair’s namesake, Jo Ellen Smith, and the passion she displayed in caring for vulnerable and underserved populations, continues to inspire the nursing community.
“I can think of no better way to honor Jo Ellen in this role than to carry on with the example she set in New Orleans decades ago – by continuing research in her name in order to make a difference with populations that have suffered for far too long due to many health disparities and inequities,” she says. “I am honored and humbled to be tasked with this amazing opportunity and will tirelessly strive to accomplish this goal.”
Since she started in early January 2021, Dr. Purnell says she’s been impressed that the School of Nursing, “under the amazing leadership of Dr. Demetrius Porsche, has established incredible resources and support for faculty research” and that faculty are very supportive of one another’s endeavors.
“The experience to date has been nothing short of phenomenal,” she says.
She’s also been thrilled to develop several collaborations with the College of Medicine to date and hopes to establish more in the near future. She is also collaborating with Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist faculty at The University of Southern Mississippi, where she previously worked, investigating how the newly identified sickle cell trigger may augment the university’s Enhanced Recovery After Surgery protocols.
Dr. Purnell is in the process of forming collaborations with other School of Nursing faculty as well, and she’s working to acquire funding for future graduate and post-doctoral students, as well as create opportunities for undergraduate students who may have an interest in her research.
“I am setting up and getting ready to begin some work in the laboratory and hope to have students involved as soon as possible,” she says. “I have been fortunate to have students at the graduate and undergraduate level involved in this research throughout my journey, and I always hope to inspire students in the areas of research, teaching, scholarship and service. I have found they often teach me more than I could ever teach them, and their inspiration has often kept me going in the tough times that can occur along the journey of innovation and discovery.”
She’s impressed by the strong culture of student research that exists at the School of Nursing.
“While research was not on my radar as a BSN student in the early 1980s, I am amazed at how many BSN students today in our MUSES [Mentoring Undergraduate Students for Excellence in Scholarship] program are miles ahead of where I was at that point in my career,” Dr. Purnell says. “The faculty here have done an amazing job with our BSN students as they conduct their research and evidence-based projects, and I hope to help build upon this strong foundation and continue to participate in the growth of undergraduate and graduate nurse researchers on their journeys to becoming nurse leaders and scientists.”