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Nerve damage { January 30 2003 }

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Thursday, January 30, 2003
Cell phone signals trigger nerve damage in rat study
By Kristin Reed / Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON -- Radio waves from certain cellular telephones triggered nerve-cell damage in the brains of rats, according to a study on the Web site of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Researchers exposed rats for about two hours to the type of electromagnetic fields generated by most European mobile phones. They found evidence of damage caused by leakage of a common protein, albumin, from the blood stream into the brain.

Consumers have sued companies including Motorola Inc., Nokia Oyj, and Qualcomm Inc., charging that their cell phones caused brain cancer. Manufacturers have maintained their products are safe. Studies mainly focused on cancer risk have yielded conflicting results, and groups including the World Health Organization have called for better research.

"These scientists decided to look in a new place, studying potential nerve damage, rather than cancer growth," said Jim Burkhart, science editor of the journal, which is published by the National Institutes of Health's environmental health division. "Their results suggest a strong need for further study, as we all rely on cell phones more and more," he said in a statement.

The total of mobile phone subscribers will climb to more than 900 million this year, up from about 500 million in 2000, according to Gartner Group, which does research on information- technology industries.

Researchers said rats exposed to stronger electromagnetic waves suffered more nerve damage, a trend that often gives scientists confidence in their findings. Still, the study doesn't provide any evidence of risks to humans, researchers said.

The wireless communications industry adheres to federal guidelines that mandate acceptable levels of radio waves, and federal regulators have supported the safety of cellular telephones, said Jo-Anne Basile, a spokeswoman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.

"One individual study doesn't provide you with answers," she said. "All of the science has suggested that there are no health effects associated with the use of cell phones -- but as new studies come up, they are evaluated."

Basile declined to comment on the rat study, which she hadn't reviewed.

The results follow findings announced last month from a Swiss study of cellular telephone users, which recorded increased blood flow to the areas of the brain closest to the device after only a half-hour call.

Until recently, most research on the topic has been limited to studies that compare rates of cancer among mobile telephone users to historic brain-cancer rates. A U.S. judge dealt a blow in September to plaintiffs in a number of lawsuits, by ruling that those studies aren't scientifically credible.

In November, four Japanese mobile-phone operators, including NTT DoCoMo Inc., KDDI Corp. and Vodafone Group Plc's J-Phone Co. unit, said they will jointly study the health effects of exposure to radio waves generated by their networks.

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