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Monday, March 1, 1999 Published at 11:56 GMT


Scientists cut their mobile phone use

Researchers have tested the impact of microwaves on brain function

Leading scientists have have cut down or modified their personal use of mobile phones as fears mount that they can damage health.

New research to be published next month links mobile phone use to memory loss.

The BBC's Fergus Walsh reports on the "first British research of its kind"
The use of mobile phones has already been linked to headaches, fatigue, damage to the immune system and cancer.

However, there is no firm evidence yet that mobile phones cause any harm.

Professor Colin Blakemore, Waynflete professor of physiology at Oxford University and a member of the official body that regulates the use of mobile phones in the UK, is one of those who have cut back their use of mobile phones.

Professor Blakemore said there was growing evidence that mobile phones could affect the functioning of the brain.

He said there are other reasons not to use mobile phones, such as cost and annoyance to other people.

Professor Blakemore said nerve cells were influenced by electromagnetic radiation of the type produced by mobile phones.

He said the phones were also placed close to areas in the brain that regulated short-term memory, as well as areas that controlled heart function and blood pressure.

He told News Online: "It would not surprise me if there was a small temporary effect on the electrical response of nerve cells when the phone is in use which could impact on the brain's ability to process information."

Professor Blakemore said he had experienced problems concentrating while using mobile phones.

"I have experienced by attention being distracted rather more than it should have been just by the conversation I was having," he said.

However, Professor Blakemore said the effect of mobile phones was likely only to be temporary, and relatively small. He said reports that suggested mobile phones could cause permanent damage should be treated with great caution.

Earpiece use

[ image: Professor Jim Penman uses an earpiece with his mobile]
Professor Jim Penman uses an earpiece with his mobile
Professor Jim Penman, from Aberdeen University, is another top academic who has changed the way he uses mobile phones.

He said we was using an earpiece attached to his mobile phone so that the handset was kept as far away from his brain as possible.

"I believe there is a significant risk to using mobile phones, and it seems prudent to minimise that risk if it can be done easily," he said.

Professor Penman said it was not yet clear whether the effects of radiation from mobile phones would be short term or long-term.

A team from Bristol Royal Infirmary has carried out research into a link between mobile phones and memory loss.

The research, to be published next month in the International Journal of Radiation Biology, is thought to show that mobile phone use has a most impact on short-term memory and may also reduce blood pressure.

Volunteers were exposed to microwaves similar to those emitted by a mobile phone for 30 minutes, and asked to undertake test of brain function.

The researchers, led by Dr Alan Preece, have refused to comment on their findings, and claim national press reports about their work are riddled with inaccuracies.

The mobile phone industry tried to allay fears that using its products could pose a risk to people's health.

Tom Wills-Sandford, a director of the Federation of the Electronics Industry, an umbrella group for the industry, urged the public not to panic, and said there was no concrete basis for any fears about health risks.

He said: "I would say it is important to look at the totality of the scientific research which shows there is no substantive evidence that there is a link between mobile phones and adverse effects on people's health.

"It would be impossible to comment on the new research because it has not yet been published, but I would be delighted to do so after April 8."

He added: "We are very concerned if our customers are concerned, and we take this issue very seriously, but we don't think there is anything to panic about."

The National Radiological Protection Board said the international consensus was that there was "no demonstrable evidence of a health risk" from mobile phones.

It added that there was a need for "good research" into the health impact of using the phones and said that, if research showed a danger, it would review its position.

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