The Adelaide Hospital Research

Research into tumour promotion in transgenic mice
using GSM-pulsed cell-phone exposures for up to 18 months
at relatively normal power-density levels

by Stewart Fist.

Quick Summary

The $1.2 million Adelaide Hospital research project was more than just significant -- both to humans and to cell phones. They found at least a doubling of the rate of lymphomas in specially sensitive mice when they were exposed to daily 2 hour doses of GSM handset-level mobile phone radiations.

As reported, the results were ten-times above the 1% level of confidence usually credited by scientists as being "Highly Significant." -- and despite the industry disclaimers, humans get cancers in the same way as mice. Yet despite the importance of this finding, the scientists involved took two years after the completion of their study (nearly three years after they knew there was a link) before they made any public announcement, or moved to have a replication study done.

(Note: A parallel project into ELF power-line frequencies, using the same mice and same techniques, was done for the Electricity Supply Association of Australia, and the report wasn't published for another year more -- and then the scientists played down in its findings)

There are few other studies in this field with such a clear-cut result as the Adelaide Hospital R/F study -- or so relevant -- and certainly none have been so well conducted on so many animals. A very high degree of confidence can be put in the results for a number of reasons, listed below.

And it must not be seen in isolation, because it also follows (among many others) the Lai-Singh study in Seattle which showed a radical increase in double-strand DNA breaks in rat-brains following 2 hours of exposure to microwaves. This confirms Lai-Singh and other studies showing genetic alterations in cells following reasonably low level exposures to cell phone radiations.

The Adelaide study showed a doubling of the number of tumours in mice following one hour of exposure per day, over a 9 to 18 month period.

And despite the industry disclaimers, this study doesn't exist in isolation. It just adds an extremely worrying finding to a mass of similar evidence that already exists.

The conduct of the experiment

The mice were divided into two groups of 100 each, housed in absolutely identical conditions, and subject to the same amount and type of handling -- the match extended even to having a sham antenna hanging over the control group. Half the mice were subject to GSM-type pulsed microwaves at a power-density roughly equal to a cell-phone transmitting for two half-hour periods each day.

So the only difference between the "shams" (controls) and the exposed mice, was that one group had an active antenna, and in the other group the power was never switched on in the antenna.

The experiment was conducted as a blind trial, using absolutely identical equipment, conditions and handling procedures throughout. As the mice died, or their tumours became very obvious and distressing for them, they were tagged and killed and set to Melbourne for autopsie. '

Dr Harris, who conducted the autopsies at the Walter-Eliza Institute, was never made aware of which group each mouse belonged to (sham or exposed), in order to ensure that his prejudices couldn't influence results.

Some of the slides made from the mouse blood and tumour tissue were also sent to a US laboratory for confirmation. They found a peculiar form of lymphoma called a B-cell (Basal Cell), which is much more serious (and unexpected) than the T-cell (Thymus Cell).

When the autopsy results were known or confirmed, the information was sent to statistician Val Gepski at the Centenary Institute, who was the first one to put together the information in the tags with the statistical record of tumour formation.

He found increased tumour rates in the exposed mice after about 9 months, and, over the 18 month experiment period the exposed mice had 2.4-times the tumour rate of the unexposed. The rate of lymphomas increased steadily over the period from 9 months to 18 months -- when the experiment was terminated (but for some strange reason the remaining mice were not autopsied) This 2.4-times figure was later adjusted down to a more confident 2-times claim to remove some unrelated kidney problems experienced by some of the mice, and to correct for other possible influences.

So to be clear: The number of tumours found in the exposed mice was 2.4-times the number found in the sham (control) group -- and this is significant to about a 1% level (p > 0.01) of confidence. However, to take out any possible reason for doubt, they discarded some of the findings where other factors may also have influenced the death of their exposed mice, and determined that the tumour rate "was at least doubled" and this had a confidence of ten-times the 1% level (P > 0.001).

It is important to note that these were transgenic mice, specially bred to be susceptible to lymph cancers of the immune system. However the rate of tumours increased right throughout the 18 month period which indicates that the effects are cumulative and time-related. Note that susceptible mice are commonly used in these studies as 'proxies', since cancer-causing effects are believed to be cumulative at the cell level.

Since humans live 80 years and mice only about 2 years, a highly-sensitive mouse is a better proxy of potential human biological reactions to the cumulative effects of cellphone radiation than a 'normal' mouse. No one suggests that you can extrapolate the 'rate of lymphoma' however, to humans what was being tested here was the industry's constant claims that biological effects of this kind ARE IMPOSSIBLE.

Clearly, this is now seen as a lie.

Scientific reaction

Dr Michael Repacholi, who raised the funds for the experiment from Australia's domestic mobile carriers, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, was anxious to play down the finding, as was Dr Tony Basten of the Centenary Institute, who supervised the team who actually did the work. They have consistendly tried to pretend that such a finding is not significant "in isoltation" (but it doesn't exist in isolation).

According to autopsyist Dr Harris these findings are very important, and statistician Val Gebski says they are 'highly significant'(well above the 1% significance level). So this research takes a giant step towards answering long-standing questions about the biomedical effects of radio waves.

The strength of this study lies in the fact that it had taken nearly six months to formulate acceptable protocols with Telstra, and to obtain 200 specially-sensitive transgenic mice. These mice were bred to be highly susceptible to T-cell lymphomas of the immune system-- to act as a sensitive detector of effects over a short-enough period for science to operate.

So the transgenic nature of the mice is a plus rather than a minus. It is the difference between the tumours found in the exposed group vs the control group that is important. If cell phones had no effect on cell health, other than heating, then there would have been no difference in the tumour rate between the two groups at all.

What is more, they quite unexpectedly established a link to B-cell lymphomas (at a very significant level), which, as one biomedical researcher explained:

B-cells are very important in immune responses. They produce antibodies against bacterial, foreign substances, etc, and also [provide] surveillance against appearance of cancer cells in the body. One would be more prone to infection if these cells are affected as in the case of B-cell lymphomas.

B-cell lymphomas are involved in perhaps 85% of all cancers, and such a result is quite unique. The scientists and the cell phone industry are trying to play these results down because of the dynamic and political nature of the findings, but it is important that we all understand the facts.

The team finished their evaluation work in the middle of 1995 and yet the published report of their research in the international journal 'Radiation Research' was only released two-years later. This was always going to be a political hot-potato.

The findings

The total exposure period is very much less than can be expected from human use over a lifetime, so while some of the scientists downplayed the importance, saying, "humans are not rodents" another pointed out that "DNA is DNA". If the radiation effects the mice, it will almost certainly effect humans.

The conduct of this experiment actually may, in the long run, raise questions more about the potential for cell-phone handset radiation to effect people nearby (passive exposures) than just the user him/herself. The experiment was conducted in the 'far field', at distances greater from the mice than the cell-phone is normally held from the head (greater than a hands-span)

And the industry has played this up, as if such a distinction is vitally important, yet it is actually of un-known scientific significance. However to discount far-field effects would be to ignore the exposure potential of:

All of these are exposed in the far-field.

Near-field biological effects in EMF effects are thought by some scientists to potentially be sustantially different from far-field, although the biomedical implications are not clear. Also, in close proximity, most of the energy transfers from the handset to the head by induction rather than just radiation, and this can raise the energy transfer by a factor of four.

The study therefore also under-rates the potential power effects on the handset user. The mice were actually getting less energy transfer than most GSM phone users.

The claim is that the Adelaide study had been held back from publication for over two years while the B-cell implications "were checked at a laboratory in Maryland, USA". Under their contract with Telstra, those involved in the study were prohibited from discussing their findings until after publication, they claim.

However, Dr Repacholi went much further than just "not discussing" the findings, at a number of cellphone-health conferences during this two year period (including one that I attended) he dismissed possibilities that cellphone R/F could have any biological effect [while knowing that his own research had shown one] and poured scorn on those activists and scientists who were urging precautions.

He told me, in an "off-the-record" statement at a London conference, that the research had found "nothing of significance". This was not true.

Media Manipulation

Attempts are being made to manipulate the Australian media into not reporting this story -- or reporting it in a one-par box hidden in the back pages. The industry "experts" are out in force trying to hose down any suggestion that these findings are worrying, and Dr Repacholi is being bought it via an expensive video-conference to explain why this research should be ignored. See Media Manipulation.

This must be the only time in history when so much money and so much energy has been put into convincing the media that important research is of little value -- by the scientist themselves!

Telstra has officially had at least three months advanced notice (probably more like two years) in which to organise and train its fire-fighting force, and they are hard at work putting out fires, and sowing confusion. Most of the arguments being presented on the media as statements of fact are, in fact, complete misstatements of the truth. See Of Mice and Men.