Brussels, 26 Sep 2003
The Commission is funding an international research initiative aimed at finding out whether the use of mobile phones has any adverse effect on the hearing of European citizens.
The GUARD project involves research teams from France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Russia and the UK, and is supported with nearly 850,000 euro of EU funding under the Quality of Life section of the Fifth Framework Programme.
Professor Mark Lutman is head of hearing at the University of Southampton, one of the project partners. 'Recent media reports on the effects of mobile phones on the brain have caused anxiety among mobile phone users,' he explained.
'There is currently no evidence to suggest that the electromagnetic fields produced by these phones have any measurable effects on a person's hearing. The most we can expect is possibly a small amount of localised heating to the head while the phone is being used. However, this is the first study of its kind on humans, so we are open to new evidence,' added Professor Lutman.
Current understanding of the effects of mobile phones on biological systems is very limited, but logic suggests that hearing is the most likely system to be affected by electromagnetic fields.
The research itself will be carried out in two parts: an initial study using rats and guinea pigs, followed by human tests. After being briefly anaesthetised using a non-toxin agent, the animal subjects are exposed to electromagnetic fields at the same frequency as most mobile communications devices. The results of these trials are currently being analysed in order to identify any changes in the auditory responses of the animals.
For the human trials, the consortium has developed a positioning apparatus for subjects to wear to ensure that the phones remain in a fixed position for the ten minute exposure period. A first group of volunteers will be exposed to electromagnetic fields in much the same way as the animal subjects, and any effects on hearing will be measured. A second stage will compare hearing thresholds between groups of frequent and infrequent mobile phone users.
The results of the first stage of the study are expected in December. Ultimately, the results of the GUARD project are expected to help shape the knowledge base used in the development of environmental and health related EU policies. The consortium stresses that due to the ubiquitous nature of mobile phones in modern society, any biological risks associated with their use must be considered a high priority health issue. The GUARD project will provide the evidence that policy makers, companies and citizens need in order to make informed decisions about the use of mobile phones.
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