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RF Brain Damage Link Found In Swedish Study
RCR Wireless News
Journalist: Jeffrey Silva
February 03, 2003

A Swedish-funded study published in an U.S. government health journal says mobile-phone exposure caused brain damage in lab rats.

The study, published last Wednesday in the online edition of the journal Environmental Heath Perspectives, is said to represent the first time researchers have found damage to neurons in rat brains exposed to radiation from mobile phones. Researchers said radiation from GSM mobile phones, which are prevalent around the world, was associated with leakage in the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier serves as a filter of sorts that shields the brain from harmful chemicals.

"If it's replicated as a study it may indicate an insufficiency in our current standard," said Robert Curtis, a scientist at the Occupational Safety and Health Agency and a member of a panel of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers that is crafting updated radiation exposure guidelines for mobile phones and communications transmitters.

The mobile phone industry insists mobile phones do not pose a health risk. Government health officials here and overseas say research to date has not linked wireless handsets to adverse biological effects in humans, but they say they cannot guarantee phones are safe and that more research is needed. There are 140 million mobile phone subscribers in the United States and more than 1 billion worldwide.

Industry downplayed the new study.

"The scientific community, public health authorities and others presumably will treat this as they would any researcher claiming a novel finding," said Norm Sandler, director of global strategic issues for Motorola Inc. "They will ask questions about the design, the exposures and the statistics underlying the reported results to assess its significance in a proper context."

Last September, a federal judge in Baltimore dismissed an $800-million brain cancer suit against Motorola. But U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake-who ruled plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient scientific evidence to warrant a jury trial-still has a slew of similar cases pending before her. The Motorola cancer suit is being challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va. Attorneys at the law firm of Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles and a trial lawyer who has won huge judgments in tobacco and asbestos litigation, filed the opening brief on behalf of 43-year-old Christopher Newman on Jan. 21. Motorola and possibly other wireless firms are expected to file responses later this month.

Environmental Health Perspectives is the journal of National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, of Research Triangle Park, N.C., a unit of the National Institutes of Health and a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Brandon Adams, a spokesman for the journal, said the mobile phone study was peer reviewed and that 96 percent of scientific papers submitted to the publication are rejected.

The journal's press release said researchers, led by Leif Salford of the Department of Neurosurgery at Lund University in Sweden, studied 12- to 26-week-old rats because their developmental age is comparable to that of human teenagers-heavy users of mobile phones The research was funded by a grant from the Swedish Council for Work Life Research.

"The situation of the growing brain might deserve special attention since biological and maturational processes are particularly vulnerable," the researchers stated. "We cannot exclude that after some decades of often daily use, a whole generation of users may suffer negative effects as early as middle age."

The researchers, who acknowledged their study sample was small, nevertheless said the combined results are highly significant and exhibit a clear, dose-response relation. Establishing causation is a key element in health litigation.

"Scientists have been looking for some time at the possible effects of exposure to the energy coming out of cellular phones," said Jim Burkhart, science editor of Environmental Health Perspectives. "These scientists decided to look in a new place, studying potential nerve damage, rather than cancer growth. Their results suggest a strong need for further study, as we all rely on cell phones more and more."

Jo-Anne Basile, vice president of external and industry relations at the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, urged caution. "You cannot make a judgment based on a single study. You want to look at the way research is trending and at the preponderance of scientific evidence." Basile said studies continue to show no adverse health effects from mobile phones, adding that handset emission is subject to strict federal guidelines.

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