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
"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
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
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
"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