Date: June 14, 2016

BioEM KONFERENCIJA U GENTU, BELGIJA 2016 komplet izveštaj Darijusa Lisickog (učesnika BIOGEN-ove1.regionalne konferencije u Beogradu)

BioEM2016: meeting friends and listening to science (part 1/3)

Ghent, conference site seen from the river Leie

BioEM2016 conference begun on Monday, June 6, in Ghent, Belgium. Seen above is the view of the conference site, Het Pand – the large building on the left on the Leie river, former monastery, is the site of BioEM2016.

A long time ago, when I was still a student, one of my professors explained to me the real reason for going to conferences. He said that it is to meet other scientists and discuss science with them, in person. Reading articles anyone can do at home or work, but meeting people who wrote them this is the real reason for coming to conferences. He was right… Below is example of such informal meeting at the BioEM2016 on Monday morning. From right to left are, Devra Davis and Lloyd Morgan (both Environmental Health Trust),Frank Barnes (Fmr. BEMS President and Distinguished Professor at U. Colorado)Michael Wyde (US National Toxicology Program; will present NTP study at BioEM2016) and Dariusz Leszczynski (U. Helsinki; author of this BRHP blog). Of course, the discussion topic of this group was the just released first results from the NTP study…


The conference begun on Monday morning with a plenary session on an extremely timely topic of wireless charging, with Akimasa Hirata (Japan) and Mark Douglas (Switzerland) as speakers. The reason for the fast technological development of practical applications in this area are technological progress in efficient wireless energy transfer and somewhat “laziness” of humans, wanting it all without cables and right in the spot wherever they happen to be. The biological research, as always, lags badly behind. What is done right now is modelling of the exposures using of different numerical models of humans of various sizes shapes and postures (virtual family developed by Niels Kuster‘s team at IT’IS). Using these virtual models scientists test whether safety limits for humans are being meet by the wirelessly charging appliances. Some important aspects of the wireless charging technology are still unresolved, like leakage of radiation from the chargers, like accidental misuse of the charging devices that might be e.g. in-built into street surface, like effects caused in people with various man-made implants. One of the comments concerned the animal welfare – what happens to a cat or a dog that get into the space between charger and charging device, like getting under a bus standing and being charged. How about accidents with small children crawling or sticking their hands or toys there where they should not… Also, using numerical modelling is a good way to get fast estimates of radiation compliance with safety standards. However, is the accuracy of these model estimates sufficient in real-life and real-persons exposures? These and many other safety issues should be addressed before the technology will be implemented on a massive scale. Finally, how about radiation-exposure safety of humans? Things are happening in a way as Frank Barnes commented – technology is developed first and, while already being broadly and profitably used, people realize that health hazards occur and only then the biomedical research begins. In our “blinded by the technology society” it seems impossible to change this practice, of only post factum reacting to technology-caused health hazard.

On Tuesday morning took place tutorial session “Standards development activities of the IEEE International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety” with C.K. Chou (retired; Fmr. of Motorola) as a speaker. The presentation was really good and clear, showing procedures used by IEEE-ICES to evaluate scientific literature and to apply this knowledge in setting of safety standards. However, there is something that IEEE-ICES does not consider much – the Conflict of Interest (CoI) issue. The Committee that sets safety standards for the telecom industry to follow, the Technical Committee-95 (TC95) consists of ca. 130 scientists from 27 countries. At some point I was also a member of this committee but I resigned in 2009 citing the Conflict of Interest within TC95 as my reason. My problem was that the membership of the IEEE-ICES-TC95 consists predominantly of the industrial scientists and the committee is chaired by C.K. Chou since the time he was employed by the Motorola. This means that all safety standards being developed by IEEE-ICES-TC95 are, in practice, developed by the industry scientists for the use by the industry they are employed by. The industry scientists have the majority on the committee and upper-hand in any process involving democratic voting. To me this is clear CoI. No matter how the procedures are described in the documents governing the work of the IEEE-ICES-TC95 the final decision belongs to the voters, of whom the majority is employed by the industry they regulate. Out of the curiosity, Chairman of the committeeSCC39 that supervises work of TC95 is Ralf Bodemann of Siemens… While the IEEE has the excellent expertise in the area of telecom technology, the Conflict of Interest remains an unresolved issue that undermines, in my opinion, reliability of the IEEE safety standards.

P.S. More detailed comments on scientific presentations at the BioEM2016 I will include in my report, prepared after the end of the conference.

BioEM2016: The NTP study (part 2/3)

The most anticipated event of the BioEM2016 was the last moment addition of the presentation of the US NIEHS National Toxicology Program study on effects of cell phone radiation in rats and mice. The 8AM Wednesday plenary session was provocatively titled: “Hot Topic Plenary: The US NTP Study: A Real Game Changer or Just Another Study?” and presenters were Myles Capstick of the IT’IS Foundation and Michael Wyde of US NIEHS NTP.

Myles Capstick presented briefly the exposure set up for the NTP study. If anyone wishes to do replication using the same exposure equipment may forget it. The equipment was already dismantled and in some way disposed of. The exposure chambers do not exist anymore. It was too costly to keep them after the exposure of animals was over. Of course, it is necessary to remember that due to rapid technological development over the period of the execution of the NTP-study the chambers, with all associated electronics, become obsolete. Furthermore, the chambers were built for the 2G technology exposures that are vanishing from the consumer market, replaced by the 3G, 4G and soon the 5G.

NTP-study results were presented by Michael Wyde. In essence, Michael presented all that was already known from the NTP Study Draft.

However, there was some additional information of the comet assay summary for rats and mice (table below):

Table NTP

There are numerous misconceptions and misrepresentations of the NTP-study and its outcome. However, one thing is certain, this is the best animal study that can be done with the existing technical and financial limitations. Even with the $25 million funding, scientists can not do all what they would like, and need to do, in order to thoroughly address all issues and answer all questions.

First of all, this was and will be an important study: “This is by far—far and away—the most carefully done cell phone bioassay, a biological assessment. This is a classic study that is done for trying to understand cancers in humans. There will have to be a lot of work after this to assess if it causes problems in humans, but the fact that you can do it in rats will be a big issue. It actually has me concerned, and I’m an expert.” said Christopher Portier, a retired head of the NTP who helped launch the study. Portier also commentedThe NTP does the best animal bioassays in the word. Their reputation is stellar. So if they are telling us this was positive in this study, that’s a concern.”

There are complaints that the radiation dose was very high and exposed was the whole body. To this, we need to remember that this is toxicology research. In such studies, on purpose, animals are exposed to very high doses of tested compounds. Doses so high that human will never encounter such exposures in real life. This is the way to determine whether tested compound causes health problems to animals and if it does, it means that it is possible that also human health might be affected. It does not prove that human health will be affected in the same way, but it shows that the possibility exist and that humans should be careful.

The very high doses of cell phone radiation used in the NTP study came from tests performed before the actual 2-year test begun (5 day pilot study and 28 day pre-chronic toxicology study). Tests looked for the highest possible dose that will be tolerated by the animals. Even the highest of the selected doses were shown, by testing, to be tolerated by the animals – not increasing the body temperature more than the ICNIRP’s recommended 1oC.

The other concern was that the animals received the whole body exposure, unlike humans who get predominantly head exposure. Doing head only exposures would require, as in some previous studies, Ferris wheel type set-up. This would involve lots of handling of the animals by the personnel and would limit time available for exposures. Housing animals free in cages allowed longer exposures (up to 9 hours/day) and less stress caused by the handling of animals (no frequent putting in and removing as it is with the Ferris wheel).

Of course, freely moving animals in cages experienced stress too – animals were single housed what is stressful (social stress of lifetime living alone) for the animals normally living in packs, like rats or mice do.

Another misunderstood issue is the transfer of knowledge gained with animals to humans. We cannot perform experiments on humans. Information obtained from animal studies is not directly transferable to human situation. However, animal studies have no such purpose – to provide information directly applicable to human health. Animal studies provide information whether health of complex living organism is affected by the examined agent. Such information is then used, in combination with epidemiological studies and laboratory in vitro studies, to determine human health risk. Animal studies are not used in vacuum. They are used as a supportive evidence.

Therefore, the outcome of the NTP study should be considered in the context of the to-date performed epidemiological, animal and in vitro studies. The combination of all the elements suggests that cell phone radiation possibly (or probably) affects human health because:

  • three case-control epidemiological studies (Interphone, Hardell’s group, CERENAT) have shown increased risk of developing glioma in avid, long-term users of cell phone (30 min/day for 10+ years)
  • animal studies, show increased health risk in exposed or co-exposed animals (e.g. Chou et al., Tillman et al, Lerchl’s group, NTP-study)

Lack of the mechanism does not preclude that the event happens. In context of the recent study by Schmid & Kuster, showing that the cell culture experiments were under-exposing cells to radiation, it is possible that the majority of the in vitro studies shows low or lack of effects because of this under-exposing to radiation. Higher doses, as suggested by Schmid & Kuster, would certainly lead to more robust in vitro effects. Replication of some of the in vitro experiments with higher exposures might turn on some evidence of mechanism(s).

Cohort epidemiological (Danish Cohort and Million Women) studies are of poor quality and cannot be used as a reliable proof of no effect.

In conclusion, we still do not have the definite proof that cell phone radiation causes cancer or increases risk of developing brain cancer. However, combination of the evidence from the case-control and from the animal studies indicates that the health risk is possible or even probable. The NTP study strengthens this “probable health risk” evidence.

This conclusion strengthens the call for the implementation of the Precautionary Principle in the area of cell phones and human health risk. It seems that the human health risk might not only be possible but it might rather be probable, in language of the IARC cell phone radiation could be upgraded from group 2B to group 2A.

BioEM2016: The “new avenues” in epidemiology (part 3/3)

The last plenary session of the BioEM2016End of BioEM2016 was dedicated to epidemiology with the title inviting to debate “New avenues of epidemiological research – added value or old challenges, or both?“. The set of invited speakers was also impressive, with Mireille Toledano(COSMOS), Elisabeth Cardis(GERoNiMO) and Martin Röösli(HERMES within GERoNiMO). This setting kept people at the meeting and the last session, what not often happens, was well attended (photo).

Unfortunately, the inviting to debate title of the session did not do the trick. Debate was sluggish and conventional. But also the presentations did not speak about any really “new avenues” of epidemiological research. The speakers presented and justified designs of the ongoing studies, COSMOS and GERoNiMO, with a bit of preliminary data. Nothing yet to get excited but the projects are still “young” and gathering data, what is a slow process.COSMOS just collected the first five years of data and we should expect soon first publications. GERoNiMO was in works for just a couple of years so there is not yet time for published results.

So, there was really not much new presented as “new avenues in epidemiology”. However, one old/new issue got, at least me, excited. It happened in presentation ofMartin Röösli

One common problem, coming across all presentations, was the lack of a good and reliable exposure data for epidemiological studies. Technology is changing very fast. Phones used by study subjects are becoming rapidly obsolete and outdated and are replaced with new units several times during the course of epidemiological project. What is more, phones are not the sole source of exposure. Yes, phones are the major source of the radiation exposure but other sources, like wi-fi, wlan, DECT, to name just few, should not be neglected. Furthermore, in the era of smart phones, people keep in pockets phones connected to the internet (should not!). This causes that during data traffic areas of the body close to the location of the pocket are exposed, in some circumstances as much as during a call. This means that some significant exposures are “relocating” from head to other areas of the body.

COSMOS study, for example, tediously collects data on numbers of performed calls and send messages, but it has no information at all about wi-fi exposures. So, how valuable and reliable will be the exposure data collected by COSMOS? I dare to say that it will be of very little real value. Epidemiological studies published with such data will remain unreliable and, most likely, will not show any dose dependency of exposure and health outcome. The reason is “simple” and should be obvious to anyone dealing with dosimetry.

Collecting information on number of made calls and on their length does not provide information on radiation exposure. As in studies done by Interphone, by Hardell’s group, by CERENAT, by Danish Cohort, by Million Women project, by Chapman et al., theCOSMOS and GERoNiMO also collect a surrogate of the radiation exposure. None of the epidemiological studies executed to-date collected real radiation exposure data. All of them have collected either bad or very bad surrogates of radiation exposure.

Graph, taken from my recent lecture at Monash University, explains, in a very simple way, why the calling minutes or years of contract with an operator are nearly worthless surrogate for the real radiation exposure data. up-link & down-link exposuresMost of the exposure user receives from the cell phone. The further the cell phone is from the nearest cell tower, the more radiation cell phone emits to connect. Furthermore, any radiation absorbing obstacles between the cell phone and the cell tower, e.g. buildings or natural terrain, will cause the  cell phone to emit more radiation. Thus, two persons making call of the same length may be (will be) exposed to a dramatically different levels of radiation, depending on person’s proximity to the cell tower. This means that placing two persons in the same exposed group, based on the length of the calls (or years of subscription with an operator), as done in epidemiological studies, puts together, in the same “exposed” group, highly exposed and minimally exposed persons. This might be the reason why the epidemiological data do not show, in more robust way than the three case-control studies, that highly exposed persons are at risk of developing brain cancer. This might be also the main reason why the dose dependency was never seen and it is likely it will not be seen inCOSMOS and in GERoNiMO. Epidemiological studies are mixing high and low exposed persons in the same exposure groups!

Additional reason for the urgent need to improve the collection of exposure data was a slide presented by Martin RöösliGSM vs UMTS(green bar = exposure using GSM network and red bar = UMTS network). It speaks for itself. Exposures of persons speaking using GSM network are dramatically higher form those using UMTS network. However, which network and when is used? This user does not know. In modern phones switch between networks happens automatically, to keep call of good quality, without the users knowledge. So, the users, by reporting just minutes of calls in epidemiological studies, provide useless information on radiation exposure.

This poor radiation dosimetry in the all to-date executed epidemiological studies is the main reason why I, personally, do not agree with the calls to upgrade the carcinogenicity of the RF-EMF to the group 1 of the IARC scale. We have indications that RF-EMF is possibly (group 2B) or even probably (group 2A) carcinogenic, likely only to some selected group of more sensitive persons (do not mix with self-diagnosed EHS!), but we do not have yet solid scientific proof that the RF-EMF is actually carcinogenic in humans.

This is why I call for the use of the Precautionary Principle in matters of RF-EMF. For now, as long as the health risk question is not resolved scientifically to a better degree of reliability.

The only way to avoid some of the problems of radiation exposure in epidemiological studies is to install on cell phones (smart phones) of the participants of the epidemiological studies an app that will record on-line, up-link and down-link exposures, all exposures to network, cell phone and wi-fi. There are such apps available already for a couple of years, unfortunately only for Android but not for iPhone, and both COSMOS and GERoNiMO are kind of thinking to implement their use. Hopefully it will happen soon and the data of real radiation exposure will begun to be collected.

Pity that such “new avenues” in dosimetry for epidemiological studies were not explored in this last plenary session of the BioEM2016.

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