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Study into the effect of mobile phone radiation on cells published by Babraham scientists

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28 July 2010

A research study by scientists at the Babraham Institute, an institute of BBSRC, into the effects of electromagnetic radiation on cells has today been published in the online journal PLoS One, revealing that acute (30 minute) application of GSM radiation has no effect on calcium transport inside biological cells. The research project, part of the independently managed Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme funded by the Department of Health and industry, aimed to establish whether the digital pulsed radiofrequency from modern GSM mobile phones influenced calcium levels in cells. Calcium signals are at the heart of many cell communication processes throughout our lives, controlling how we grow and develop into healthy adults. Due to this central role of calcium, interference with its regulation by electromagnetic radiation could have serious consequences on cell physiology and human health.

The extensive, high-sensitivity analyses carried out in this study revealed that GSM mobile phone-type radiation had no effect on calcium signalling processes in three important types of cells, which had previously been suggested to be sensitive to radiofrequency fields; two neuronal cell types and a cell type that surrounds blood vessels.

Although the way in which electromagnetic fields could affect human biology is not established, it has been suggested that the types of radiofrequencies emitted by mobile phones may interfere with calcium signalling processes in cells; as calcium ions have a 'charge' they would be a natural candidate to interact with electromagnetic radiation. Apart from its role in forming teeth and bones, calcium is a vital messenger inside cells, affecting many cell processes including muscle contraction, fertilisation and neural activity as well as switching genes on and off at critical times during development. Sometimes these calcium signals can be altered or activated at the wrong time, causing harmful changes in cell behaviour. Problems with calcium levels in the body underlie numerous health problems including high blood pressure, heart failure, cancer and bipolar disorders.

The research, carried out at the Babraham Institute, an institute of the BBSRC, investigated whether acute radiofrequency radiation emitted by mobile phones caused changes in calcium ions inside cells from the brain and blood vessels. A technique known as 'fluorescence imaging' was used to assess whether radiation akin to that emitted by mobile phones influenced cell signalling in mammalian cells growing in the laboratory. The behaviour of thousands of cells exposed to mobile phone-type radiation for periods of 30 minutes, a realistic time for a phone call, was individually analysed. Different types of cells were used to see if there was any difference in sensitivity. In addition, the team looked at the effect of radiation levels on resting levels of calcium inside the cells and also on calcium signals that were deliberately triggered by the addition of a hormone or other stimulus.

The Babraham Institute is a centre for studying the basic biology of signalling inside and between cells, supporting the BBSRC's mission to drive advances in fundamental bioscience for better health and improved quality of life across the life course, reducing the need for medical and social intervention. Dr Martin Bootman, Group Leader in Molecular Signalling at the Babraham Institute explained, "Our very sensitive equipment is able to detect even tiny changes in cell behaviour. However, we did not find any significant effect of radiofrequency exposure on cellular calcium, even with the highest radiation power which exceeds typical mobile phone emissions. This study indicates that calcium within cells is not acutely affected by mobile phone-type emissions. If individuals are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation it would have to be through a mechanism that does not involve changes in calcium transport."

Rod O'Connor, lead author of the paper commented, "The automated imaging system we constructed for these experiments allowed us to detect even the slightest change in calcium. We collaborated with some of the best physicists and engineers in the world to design a system to expose cells to mobile phone radiation. We worked very hard to make sure we had the dosimetry right and were very open-minded to what we might find. If short-term exposure to GSM radiation caused a change in calcium in cells, it would have been seen in these experiments. However, we were unable to find any evidence that GSM exposure had any influence on cellular calcium signals in these studies".

ENDS

Notes to editors

Publication details: Exposure to GSM RF fields does not affect calcium homeostasis in human endothelial cells, rat pheocromocytoma cells or rat hippocampal neurons. Rodney P. O'Connor, Steve D. Madison, Philippe Leveque, H. Llewelyn Roderick and Martin D. Bootman (2010). http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.00011828.

About Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme

More information about the MTHR, a programme of research into mobile phones and health that is overseen by an independent programme management committee, is available at: www.mthr.org.uk

About the Babraham Institute

The Babraham Institute is an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) located near Cambridge, undertaking international quality research to support the biomedical aspects of the BBSRC's mission. The Institute's research is focused on understanding the biological events that underlie the normal functions of cells and the implication of failure or abnormalities in these processes. The latest technologies are being used to study the basis of conditions such as neurodegenerative disorders, birth defects, cancer and diseases of the immune and cardiovascular systems. With a strategic focus on 'healthy ageing', novel approaches for tackling chronic diseases and public health concerns like obesity and inflammatory disorders are being discovered. www.babraham.ac.uk

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Dr Claire Cockcroft, Head, External Relations

tel: 01223 496260
mob: 07786 335978

Dr Martin Bootman, Group Leader, Laboratory of Molecular Signalling

tel: 01223 496443