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Cell phone use leads to tumors, UW researcher finds







With nearly a billion cell phone users worldwide, it is difficult to find anyone -- on campus or elsewhere -- without one. The prevalence of wireless users, however, shows that many are not heeding the increasing concern about the potentially harmful effects of cell phones including the damage cell phones may do to DNA in brain cells.

UW bioengineering professor Henry C. Lai has focused much of his research on trying to understand the way electromagnetic radiation emitted from these wireless devices affects the human body.

"What people don't realize [when they use cell phones] is that they are irradiating themselves," Lai said.

His studies have mainly consisted of exposing lab rats to microwave radiation similar to that emitted by cell phones, and then examining the rats' brain cells to determine if DNA was damaged.

Any damage sustained by the DNA signifies a break in the body's genetic code and the occurrence of a potential mutation, which could lead to tumors and cancer.

In humans, DNA in brain cells would also sustain such damage since the radiation is emitted from the antenna of the phone and a majority of it is absorbed directly by the head.

In other studies done worldwide, frequent cell phone use has been linked to headaches, and even brain cancer. These studies also suggest a correlation between what side of the head a person holds a phone to and the amount of damage sustained by the DNA in the cells in the part of the brain corresponding to that side.

Despite the negative attention being given to cell phones in the media, the habits of many frequent cell phone users seem to remain the same.

Peter Hong, a UW sophomore psychology major, claims to make and receive at least 20 phone calls per day on his cell phone. Although he is aware of the potential harm he may be doing to himself, such studies have not deterred him from using his cell phone every day.

"Anything in this world is harmful to some extent," said Hong. "[For example,] spicy foods are supposed to damage your intestines. It is also said that cell phones give you brain cancer. [But], those are two of the things I won't give up."

Lai admits it is too early to call the extent to which cell phones are capable of causing damage. More in-depth studies must be conducted with greater sample sizes over a longer period of time in order for any valid conclusion to be established. However, Lai has no doubt that the radiation emitted from the antennae of cell phones has at least some biological effect on frequent users.

In the meantime, he faces fierce opposition from the cell phone industry for his research.

A number of attempts have been made to dissuade the efforts of Lai and Singh and to discredit their work. In fact, at one point, the director of a group created to manage $25 million in industry-donated research money tried to have then-UW President Richard McCormick fire them.

Lai asserts that most research on the potentially harmful effects of cell phones in the United States has ceased because of resistance from the cell phone industry. Since the federal government no longer funds such research, scientists are reliant on industry funding, which comes with restrictions that prevent them from asking the questions they seek to answer.

As for frequent users like Hong who are unwilling to part with their cell phones, Lai suggests the use of flip phones or headsets.

"The idea is to keep the source of radiation as far from your body as possible," Lai advised. "Even one or two centimetres can make a significant difference in energy absorption"



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