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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 46 - August 2005    
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FUNDAMENTAL RESEARCH
Title  Surprising discoveries in vitro

In terms of cellular biology, the effects of the electromagnetic fields to which current technologies expose us – ranging from the very low frequencies of electrotechnical applications to telecommunications radio frequencies – have remained unknown territory to date. A pioneer in this field, the European Reflex project recently shed light on some of the mysteries, producing results that raise many questions.

In vitro experiment: cell division, revealing several micronuclei, the result of the genotoxic effects of electromagnetic rays.

In vitro experiment: cell division, revealing several micronuclei, the result of the genotoxic effects of electromagnetic rays.
Many research studies on cancer have demonstrated the genotoxic methods by which ionising radiation disturbs and destroys the cell universe by breaking the DNA chemical bonds. In this respect, the very recent European project Reflex(1) sought to fill a gap in our fundamental knowledge that had previously kept us totally in the dark about the possible biological effects of the standard electromagnetic fields.

The project, pursued by a consortium of 12 laboratories based in seven European countries, sought to take an initial step in verification in this field. Intensive tests were carried out – which sought to be as exhaustive as possible – that involved exposing in vitro various isolated human cell systems (fibroblasts, lymphocytes, etc.) to variable ranges of electromagnetic fields. These samples were then examined closely to observe whether or not this radiation had produced any genotoxic or phenotypical effects on the cells of a kind that would normally be susceptible to result in cancerous and/or neurodegenerative pathologies. 

Undeniable breaks in the DNA chain
The surprise effect of the Reflex results, which were obtained in two Reflex laboratories during the 2000-2004 period, is that DNA simple- or double-strand breaks are produced in several cell systems under the effect of the very low frequencies or radio frequencies to which these cell samples were exposed. Furthermore, these genotoxic phenomena are present even when descending below the magnetic flux densities or specific absorption rates that comply with the safety standards in place. 

"At this stage, these results – the reliability of which we can guarantee as they originate in a common work platform with several participating laboratories – do not enable us to draw any conclusions in terms of health,” stresses Franz Adlkofer of the Verum Foundation in Munich (DE), the project coordinator. “The research we have carried out provides biological indications that clearly concur and constitute an initial knowledge base. Other studies must now investigate the specific points of our results – such as the fact that the genotoxic effect of very-low-frequency electromagnetic fields is only produced on intermittent exposure, not on continuous exposure, and that in the radio frequency range intermittent exposure generates stronger genotoxic effects than continuous exposure.” 

The effects of radiation on DNA in vitro. On the left, no change; in the centre, showing breaks in the DNA bonds after exposure to gamma rays; on the right, the breaks are caused by a high-frequency electromagnetic field applied continuously during 24 hours.
The effects of radiation on DNA in vitro . On the left, no change; in the centre, showing breaks in the DNA bonds after exposure to gamma rays; on the right, the breaks are caused by a high-frequency electromagnetic field applied continuously during 24 hours.
The limits of in vitro
"To return to the subject of real risks to health, what we obtain from in vitro research offers no positive or negative certitude as to what actually happens in a living organism,” Dr Adlkofer is careful to point out. “The questions raised by the Reflex results must clearly be an incitement for further research, switching to in vivo studies on animal models and on man.

(1) Risk evaluation of potential environmental hazards from low-energy electromagnetic field exposure using sensitive in vitro methods


Printable version

Features 1 2 3 4
  The electromagnetic bath
  Safeguarding the ears
  Surprising discoveries in vitro
  Interphone, the world’s widest survey


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  • Verum Foundation– Stiftung für Verhalten un Umwelt (Munich, DE)
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  • Frans Adlkofer
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