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  AUDITORY SYSTEM  -  Safeguarding the ears

The auditory system is clearly the human organ for which any questions regarding the effect of mobile telephone radio frequencies would seem to be the most pertinent. In-depth research carried out between 2002 and 2004 under the European project Guard (Potential adverse effects of GSM cellular phones on hearing) provides a reassuring response, however, as an Italian biomedical expert engaged in risk prevention in this field explains.

Examples of direct tests, on volunteers, to monitor the reaction of the auditory system depending on the position of the devices. Research carried out by the Guard project.
Examples of direct tests, on volunteers, to monitor the reaction of the auditory system depending on the position of the devices. Research carried out by the Guard project.
Paolo Ravazzani, of the IIB-CNR(1) (IT), has specialised in biomedicine of the auditory system for the past 20 years. “From the start, my principal lines of research sought to link the biomedical effects of electromagnetic fields to stimulate the nervous system with applications for the auditory system, such as modelling, signal processing and the optimising of audiological devices. Subsequently, in 1996-97, it was almost natural to find myself at the forefront when it came to looking at the new issues raised by the use of the first cell phones. The search for technological innovation for medical purposes and the new concern regarding the health effects of mobile telephony came together in this field of shared interest.”

Direct tests on human volunteers
In 2000, it was Paolo Ravazzani who coordinated the launch and implementation of Guard, one of the first major European biomedical research projects, launched by the EU under the Fifth Framework Programme. French, British, Italian, Greek, Lithuanian, Hungarian and Russian specialists first carried out in-depth tests on animal models. At the same time, sophisticated systems for the recording and verification of measurements were developed so as to be able to carry out direct tests on the auditory systems of human volunteers, looking in particular at the positioning of the devices. One of the subjects studied concerned the central question of localised non-thermal effects that could be caused by the intensive use of GSM devices operating in the 900 to 1 800 megahertz frequency range.

“After three years of research, none of our results permit us to affirm that mobile phones cause the slightest damage to the principal hearing faculties. But Guard does not stop there. We have also defined procedures and accumulated knowledge that open the door to other types of enquiry into potential problems that could still arise in the longer term. For example, we recommend more in-depth research on the effects of mobile phones on the efferent cochlear system.”(2)

Tracking technological trends
Studies into the long-term effects on the hearing of rats carried out in the laboratory by the Emfnear European project, in co-operation with the Guard project.
Studies into the long-term effects on the hearing of rats carried out in the laboratory by the Emfnear European project, in co-operation with the Guard project.
In the field of hearing, the expertise acquired by virtue of the Guard project will be used to monitor technological developments closely. “We believe that the arrival of the so-called third generation of mobile phones (3G/UMTS[3]), characterised by a higher range of radio frequencies and new modulations for the information transmitted, is reason enough for new research.” In December 2004, Paolo Ravazzani therefore took over the coordination of the European EMFnEAR(4) scientific project, a consortium based on the same teams who worked on the Guard project, with the addition of Polish researchers. At the same time, this biomedical specialist who is very much involved in preventing electromagnetic risk – especially the potential dangers of mobile telephone use – is the driving force behind a new coordination and dissemination initiative supported under the Sixth Framework Programme, the EMF-NET network (see "The electromagnetic bath [ http://ec.europa.eu/research/rtdinfo/46/01/article_2941_en.html ]").

(1) Istituto di Ingegneria Biomedica – Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche
(2) In sensorial neuro-anatomy this term refers to the channels that ‘descend’ to the sensorial receivers. The latter send messages to the central nervous system through afferent channels and receive messages from the central nervous system through efferent channels.
(3) Universal Mobile Telecommunications System
(4) Exposure to UMTS EMF: Study on potential adverse effects on hearing


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