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Phone Use Aids Memory, May Hurt Brain
The first official investigation into the health risks of mobile phones has discovered they do affect brain activity.
The study was masterminded by Dr. Alan Preece, a medical engineer based at Bristol Royal Infirmary, in Bristol, England, and examined the effect of mobile phone use on memory. It found that volunteers were able to think faster while using the phones and performed better in a memory test immediately after using them.
But other leading scientists in the field warn that any evidence of interference with normal brain functions by signals from handsets would be very worrying - even if that evidence showed short-term benefits to memory.
Dr. Henry Lai, the U.S. scientist whose work on low-intensity radiation given off by mobile phones showed damage to DNA in rats, said: "Any disturbance to the function of the brain is alarming. The consequence of functional changes in the brain is behavioral changes. Under certain circumstances, a change in certain behavior could be beneficial. But in another situation, the same change could be detrimental."
The Bristol-based research is expected to report that a 10-minute period on a mobile phone improved users' ability to memorize lists of words they were shown immediately afterward.
Dr. Preece refused to comment on "speculation" about the results, but denied "in the strongest possible terms" earlier reports that he had evidence of mobile phones damaging short-term memory.
The study is important because the British regulatory body responsible for setting standards on all kinds of radiation, the National Radiological Protection Board, has rebuffed public fears about mobile phone use.
The NRPB position is that there is insufficient quality research to prove whether the phones are safe or not.
Concern is also growing among parents worried about the health risks posed by radiation from mobile phone base stations springing up on schools across the country. They fear that the NRPB is ignoring key studies by U.S. and Swedish scientists that seem to demonstrate health problems.
Dr. Preece's study focuses only on memory, which is currently the key issue in a handful of court cases being brought by former telecom engineers. It will not deal with the suspected links to the tumors experienced by some engineers and, most famously, by the prominent businessman-friend of British tycoon Richard Branson, Michael Von Clemm, who died as a result of a tumor that developed behind his " phone ear."