Yet another cell phone and disease story, and while this one is on the “good news” side, it doesn’t reassure me:
The millions of people who spend hours every day on a cell phone, may have a new excuse for yakking. A surprising new study in mice provides the first evidence that long-term exposure to electromagnetic waves associated with cell phone use may actually protect against, and even reverse, Alzheimer?s disease. The study, led by University of South Florida researchers at the Florida Alzheimer?s Disease Research Center (ADRC), was published today in the Journal of Alzheimer?s Disease.
?It surprised us to find that cell phone exposure, begun in early adulthood, protects the memory of mice otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer?s symptoms,? said lead author Gary Arendash, PhD, Research Professor at the Florida ADRC. ?It was even more astonishing that the electromagnetic waves generated by cell phones actually reversed memory impairment in old Alzheimer?s mice.? (Press release, J. Alzheimer’s Disease)
The paper is said to have shown that cell phone non-ionizing radiation prevented amyloid plagues in young mice and “erased” amyloid plaques in older ones in a study with a mouse model of the disease. Even more surprising was the claim that normal mouse memory was improved. Hmmm. According to the journal:
The highly-controlled study allowed researchers to isolate the effects of cell phone exposure on memory from other lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. It involved 96 mice, most of which were genetically altered to develop beta-amyloid plaques and memory problems mimicking Alzheimer?s disease as they aged. Some mice were non-demented, without any genetic predisposition for Alzheimer?s, so researchers could test the effects of electromagnetic waves on normal memory as well.
I hadn’t realized mouse life styles were so decadent, but if a mouse sets foot in our house Mrs. R. gets out the nuclear arsenal, so I haven’t had a lot of chance to observe them in the wild.
The mice were exposed to cell phone radiation from “standard cell phones” for two 1-hour periods a day for either 7 or 9 months. Their cages were arranged around a central antenna. Doses were said to be typical of what is caused by pressing the usual cell phone transmitter next to the skull. That’s probably well within the usual exposure durations of most teenagers and many adults.
If this effect is real, the good news is that this might provide a non-invasive non pharmaceutical prophylactic and therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease, a devastating malady that afflicts an untold number of middle aged and older people. However the effects were not apparent until a significant fraction of the mouse’s lifetime had elapsed (many months), so the the therapeutic potential is unclear.
There is obviously a long way to go to verify this report, including what amplitudes and frequencies are most effective and what portions of the (much larger) human brain should be irradiated. And if this is a real effect there is still a lot of work to do on the mechanism. The Alzheimer’s mice (but not the normal mice) showed a slight increase in brain temperature after the passage of time and the authors suggest this might have helped clear the amuyloid plagues. Of course it might also have been a consequence of whatever process was causing removal of the plagues. If the effect is real.
If real, then what about it isn’t reassuring? One of the arguments that long term use of cell phones wasn’t dangerous was that it wasn’t plausible non-ionizing radiation could have any significant biological effect. Whatever else you might say, this is certainly a significant biological effect. If verified, this would add fuel to the continuing controversy over cell phones and brain cancer. Malignant brain cancer is relatively uncommon (although not rare), so even a doubling of risk doesn’t translate into huge numbers, but it is an extraordinarily prevalent exposure for which we have very little long term evidence for human health effects.
On the anecdotal side, my (cross-sectional) observations of drivers are that one possible effect on cognition, whatever the effects on memory, is that a significant number of people with cell phones are stupid.