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Mobile phones: DNA damage discovered

MagazineApril 2009 (Vol. 20 Issue 1)Mobile phones: DNA damage discovered

Explosive new evidence from a number of quarters shows that cell-phone radiation causes permanent damage to the DNA in cells, even with infrequent use

Explosive new evidence from a number of quarters shows that cell-phone radiation causes permanent damage to the DNA in cells, even with infrequent use.

Things have been hotting up since our October 2006 report on the dangers of WiFi and mobile phones (WDDTY vol 17 no 7). Finally, even the official scientific government advisors are having to acknowledge the potential for harm from these wireless technologies. It's partly in response to the sheer volume of adverse published reports in the research literature (see box below), but it's also because there's now a plausible mechanism for the dangers.

From the days 25 years ago, when a mobile phone was the size of a large brick-and cost nearly its weight in gold to buy one-nowadays, over two billion people around the world own a mobile. That's one-third of the world's population. This explosive uptake of mobile phones has been called "the largest human biological experiment ever" (by Swedish neurosurgeon Dr Leif Salford) because the technology has been marketed without any safety testing whatever-an incredibly bizarre omission in an era of such blanket health-and-safety legislation.

The reason is simply that the world's experts originally thought mobile phones and masts were simply too low-powered to be harmful. The belief was that the only danger would be from a rise in temperature. To put it crudely, if a mobile couldn't cook you, it couldn't hurt you.

Trawling through the research

That's still the official view today, although it's becoming increasingly untenable in the light of new evidence. One of the first scientists to question the conventional position was Professor of Bioengineering Dr Henry Lai at the University of Washington, in Seattle. Lai showed that when rat brain cells were subjected to electromagnetic radiation similar to that emitted by mobile phones, breaks occurred in the DNA of the cells. This led him to speculate that mobile-phone radiation could be directly damaging DNA as well as its repair mechanisms (Int J RadiatBiol, 1996; 69: 513-21).

These animal findings were later confirmed in another 'test-tube' study, this time using isolated human brain cells. In this case, a team headed by Professor Franz Adlkofer at the University of Vienna reported evidence of "non-thermal DNA breakage by mobile phone radiation" (Mutat Res, 2005; 583: 178-83).

Other significant biological effects have been found by researchers at Columbia University Health Sciences in New York. This group exposed fruit flies to a standard mobile radiofre-quency output, and found an increase in the production of 'heat shock protein (hsp)70'-an indication of cell stress-with no direct thermal heating effects. This damage took place "within minutes" (J Cell Biochem, 2003; 89: 48-55).

Researchers at Athens University also using fruit flies reported that "mobile telephony radiation . . . was found to decrease significantly and non-thermally the insect's reproductive capacity" (Electromagn Biol Med, 2007; 26: 33-44). They also found "degeneration of large numbers of egg chambers after DNA fragmentation of their constitu-ent cells"-after less than a week's exposure to mobile-phone radiation for just a few minutes each day (Mutat Res, 2007; 626: 69-78).

A major review of the biological effects of mobile-phone radiation was recently done by the ECOLOG Insti-tute in Hanover, Germany. Although commissioned and paid for by two mobile-phone companies, German T-Mobil and Deutsche Telekom, the report was hard-hitting. It confirmed "disturbances of DNA replication" caused by mobile-phone wavelengths. This could explain the cancer-causing effects of these devices, the report said-even at their relatively low power.

"Obvious disturbance of the com-munication between cells, which is a prerequisite for the uninhibited proliferation of cells that is charac-teristic for cancer development, occurs at [mobile power levels of] just a few watts per metre," the report stated (Hennies K et al. Mobile Telecommunications and Health. Hanover, Germany: ECOLOG-Institut f"ur sozial-"okologische Forschung und Bildung GmbH, 2000).

Equally alarming is the evidence that these effects can take place within the brain. The body normally has a self-protective mechanism to prevent toxins from entering the brain, but there is rapidly accumulating evidence that mobile-phone frequencies can cause this blood-brain barrier to break down. Indeed, there is "a whole series of studies in which a greatly increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier was produced through pulsed high-frequency fields of very low intensity

. . . which corresponded to those of mobile telephony", states the report.

The theories so far

Scientists are beginning to get a handle on how mobile radiation might be causing the damaging effects seen in brain cells-although, at present, these are only theories, not hard facts.

An Italian group from the University of Padua believes that mobile radiation may cause "neuron cell membrane gating" and disruptions to cellular calcium-regulating mechanisms (Non-linear Dynamics Psychol Life Sci, 2007; 11: 197-218).

The Athens University team men-tioned above thinks that mobile radiation causes the cell membrane to vibrate, thereby disrupting its electrochemical balance (Biochem Biophys Res Commun, 2002; 298: 95-102).

But perhaps the most developed theory has come from the leading American electromagnetic-radiation expert, Dr George Carlo. An epi-demiologist by training, 15 years ago, Carlo was lavishly funded by the cellphone industry to investigate mobile-phone safety-but he came up with conclusions that the industry didn't want to hear.

Carlo's theory is that mobile radiation activates a 'protein vibra-tional receptor' on the cell membrane, which the body interprets as a foreign invader. In self-defence, the cell shuts down its normal functions, strivingto make the cell membrane less permeable. This, however, prevents necessary cell nutrients from getting in, and also stops waste products from getting out. The result of this is a buildup of free radicals, leading to a 'dysfunctional' cell-and, hence, the breaching of the blood-brain barrier, says Dr Carlo.

Worse is yet to come, however. The accumulating free radicals also inter-fere with DNA synthesis, causing the strands to fragment into 'micro-nuclei', which are then free to swim about outside of the cells. Normally these cellular fragments would be mopped up by macrophages but, because the cell is now too energy (nutrient)-deficient to cope, the micronuclei proliferate, ultimately leading to tumour formation.

The new sea of radiation

But aren't these theories flying in the face of common sense? After all, we have been surrounded by electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) for over a century, with no apparent adverse health effects.

The answer lies in the type of electromagnetic radiation, claims Dr Carlo. Until the advent of mobiles, most of our artificially created EMFs have been using frequencies similar to those found in the earth's natural background radiation, which is being emitted from radon gas, lightning, the sun or the earth's own magnetic field. Also, over the course of our human evolution, our bodies have developed defence mechanisms against those natural frequencies.

What's different about mobile phones and wireless technology is that they use 'information-carrying waves'. Although they are low in power, these waves operate at frequencies that our bodies have never met before but which, nevertheless, can resonate with our body's cells and cause adverse reactions.

Dr Carlo's conclusion is stark. "Where you have a biological mech-anism like this, which is triggered at cell-membrane level, you have no threshold; there is no level below which this mechanism is not triggered," he says.

As this sounds rather apocalyptic, why aren't we all dropping dead like fruit flies? His answer is that, for most of us, the immune system can cope-at least in the short term. But there are a substantial number of peoplewho will go on to develop so-called 'electrohypersensitivity', for whom the cellular damage is "irreversible", he said, in a lecture delivered at the House of Commons in London, in February 2007.

Tony Edwards

Wireless update

- The incidence of malignant brain tumours was found to be 5.9 times higher risk after analogue mobile-phone use, 3.7 times higher after digital mobile use and 2.3 times higher after cordless phone use, with more than 2000 cumulative hours (Int Arch Occup Environ Health, 2006; 79: 630-9).

- Albeit in rats, and so may not apply to humans, mobile telephone radiation leads to oxidative stress in cornea and lens tissues in the eye (Curr Eye Res, 2007; 32: 21-5).

- Because of the shape of their heads, children receive 60 per cent more radiation from mobiles than adults do (Electromagn Biol Med, 2006; 25: 349-60).

- Studies funded by the mobile-phone industry are the least likely to find any evidence of harm (Environ Health Perspect, 2007; 115: 1-4).

- A Danish study found no connection between mobile phone use and brain tumours (J Natl Cancer Inst, 2006; 98: 1707-13). Critics point out that this study

(a) did not control for the amount of mobile phone use, (b) mostly involved infrequent users, and (c) was funded by the cellular phone industry.


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