Mobiles, Mice And Health: The Evidence Isn't Clear

A new study in the controversial area of how mobile phones impact our bodies suggests that mice exposed to high levels of mobile phone signal might be more prone to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But the evidence is far from conclusive and we need more research.

Picture by Mark Fowler

A study published today in Scientific Reports examines the effects of mobile phones on mice:

To evaluate the potential effects of prenatal exposure to cell phone radiation on mice, Hugh Taylor and colleagues exposed female mice throughout pregnancy to radiation from a muted and silenced cell phone, which was positioned above the cage and placed on an active phone call for the duration of the trial. A control group of mice was kept under the same conditions but with the phone deactivated. As adults, the mice that were exposed to radiation tended to be more hyperactive and had decreased anxiety and reduced memory capacity.

Research on the field of the health of mobile phone impacts always generates lots of media controversy. While the results of this study are suggestive, the report authors and other scientists agree that more research is needed. The release announcing the results makes this point very clearly: "Rodent pregnancies last only 19 days and offspring are born with a less-developed brain than human babies, so further experiments are needed in humans or non-human primates to determine if the potential risks of exposure to radiation during pregnancy are similar."

In a comment gathered by the Australian Science Media Centre, University of Wollongong professor of health psychology Rodney Croft outlines the main concerns:

There are two major limitations with the paper that preclude any comment about the effects of mobile phone emissions on ADHD. The first is that the measurement of absorbed doses (dosimetry) was not adequate as we don’t even know if one group of mice was exposed more than the other. The second is that we can’t extrapolate from the mouse results to ADHD in humans (indeed the changes observed in the mice were not even consistent with ADHD).

None-the-less, should associations be found between mobile phone emissions and behaviour in mice, this would be very important scientifically, particularly as none have been identified to date. It will thus be important to replicate the study with improved methodology to determine whether mobile phone emissions can affect long-term memory, hyperactivity or anxiety; a pattern that although not relating to ADHD, would be important for human wellbeing more generally.

Professor Malcolm Sperrin from the Royal Berkshite Hospital in the UK raised similar concerns:

This study does not suggest that mobile phones could be the cause of ADHD in humans for several reasons: Firstly, the developmental model for mice bears no practical resemblance to humans (19 days gestation versus nine months). Secondly, the mice experienced long periods of exposure -- in some cases continuously. Thirdly, the distance between the source of radiation and the target tissue is not representative of human usage (a few cm as opposed to a metre or so). And finally, Power density and exposure conditions will be different between the mice and humans. It is reasonable to conclude that this study is a worthy step aimed at understanding non-ionising radiation effects, but great caution must be given not to stretch the data too far until more work is done to move toward human equivalent studies.

So let's wait for more research. In the meantime, if you have pet mice, don't let them use your phone. Pet cats? That's up to you.

Scientific Reports


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