Are cell phones altering your cells?

In the month were “the force might be with you”, an alarming article has unveiled the outcome of cell-phone radiofrequency on head and neck cancer progression (1). The research group from the University of Qatar, in collaboration with research centers in Qebec and Aleppo, revealed that cellphone radiofrequency promotes angiogenesis of the chick’s chorioallantoic membrane (CAM). In addition, the cell phone radiofrequency enhances cell invasion and colony formation of human head and neck cancer cells; this is accompanied by a downregulation of E-cadherin expression. Dr. Moustafa and collaborators found that the cell phone could activate Erk1/Erk2 in our experimental models.


The extracellular-signal-regulated kinase (ERK) pathway is one of the major signaling pathways and it is activated by a variety of extracellular agents, including growth factors, hormones and also cellular stresses to induce cellular processes that include mainly proliferation and differentiation, but under some conditions also stress response and others. This ERK pathway contributes to the regulation of cell proliferation such as immune cells activation, synaptic plasticity such as long-term potentiation in hippocampal neurons, proliferation of endothelial cells during angiogenesis and phosphorylation of the transcription factor p53 (a linked related to cancer). They used CAM and human head and neck cancer cell lines, FaDu and SCC25, to explore the outcome of cell-phone radiofrequency on angiogenesis, cell invasion, and colony formation of head and neck cancer cells, respectively. Finally they investigated the protein expression impact of the cell phone on the regulation of E-cadherin and Erk1/Erk2 genes.Their concluded that cell-phone radiofrequency could enhance head and neck cancer by stimulating angiogenesis and cell invasion via Erk1/Erk2 activation.


Another researcher working on this topic is Dr. Nesrin Seyhan, she  is the chair of the Gazi biophysics department in Ankara (beside being a member of the Advisory committee of the WHO, a Scientific member of İCEMS and a Panel member of NATO RTO HFM). She has been studying the effect of radiation on cells for the last 20 years, focusing lately in the kind of radiation that the cell phone emits. Would you be able to leave your phone after reading the results of her research?


Besides the fact that millions of people do not have a phone, we can assume that you can be happy without this addictive device. I made the experiment multiple times, mostly because I did not have any other option (aka traveling to a different uncovered zone), and it was ok at the beginning but lately it was an awful experience. I had to change mobile plans and according with the Murphy's laws, if something can go wrong, it will... I was without a phone for a week.


A quick search in the pubmed, the scientific papers database, with the words “cell phone” gives you 10000 articles. The best one was a Korean research back from 2014 by Kim and collaborators published in PLOS One (2). They studied Smartphone Addiction in 795 students in elementary, middle, and high schools across South Korea. They conclusion was that Smartphone addiction is gaining a greater spotlight as possibly a new form of addiction along with Internet addiction. 


Other interesting study done in El Cairo showed the effects of pulsed electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones in adult rats. The researchers exposed adult rats to a daily dose of Electromagnetic radiation (EMR, frequency 1800 MHz) and sacrificed after 1, 2 and 4 months. Then, monoamines were determined by high performance liquid chromatography coupled with fluorescence detection (HPLC-FD) using their native properties. They reported that the exposure to EMR resulted in significant changes in dopamine (DA), norepinephrine (NE) and serotonin (5-HT) in the hippocampus, hypothalamus, midbrain and medulla oblongata of adult rats.


Soooo, the exposure of adult rats to EMR may cause disturbances in monoamine neurotransmitters and this may underlie many of the adverse effects reported after EMR including memory, learning, and stress (3). This results, plus other research has showed that we might feel happy every time he heard our hone ringing... and also stressed.


The good news is that a study involving a nationwide cohort study of mobile phone use, did not found increased risks of tumors of the central nervous system, providing little evidence for a causal association (4).


Obviously the mobile phone technology changed our life in a daily bases, and our social etiquette has been affected for the "staring at the phone" behavior and the "just to check updates" constant social interaction interruptions. But getting deeper in the biological effects of the phones, Dr. Nesrin Seyhan, registered a concerning alteration in the programmed cell death (aka apoptosis) in rabbits exposed to radiation.  Furthermore, exposure to 1,800 MHz may induce some pathomorphological alterations in different tissues of non-pregnant and pregnant rabbits and their infants. In other research from her group they showed that apoptosis resulted from radio frequency radiation exposure of pregnant rabbits and their infants (4). They measured the oxidative DNA damage and lipid peroxidation levels in the brain tissue of pregnant and non-pregnant New Zealand White rabbits and their newborns exposed to RFR.  They were exposed to RFR (1800 MHz GSM; 14 V/m as reference level) for 15 min/day during 7 days. Malondialdehyde (MDA) and 8-hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) levels were analyzed. MDA and 8-OHdG levels of non-pregnant and pregnant-RFR exposed animals significantly increased with respect to controls. 


This results are alarming and a huge "danger" sign that we should not underestimate, in Dr. Seyhan words: "There exist very few experimental studies on the effects of RFR during pregnancy. It would be beneficial to increase the number of these studies in order to establish international standards for the protection of pregnant women from RFR."


1- Head Neck. 2018 May 13. doi: 10.1002/hed.25210.

Effect of cell-phone radiofrequency on angiogenesis and cell invasion in human head and neck cancer cells.

Alahmad YM, Aljaber M, Saleh AI, Yalcin HC, Aboulkassim T, Yasmeen A, Batist G, Moustafa AA.

2-PLoS One. 2014 May 21;9(5):e97920. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097920. eCollection 2014.

Development of korean smartphone addiction proneness scale for youth.

Kim D, Lee Y, Lee J, Nam JK, Chung Y.

3-Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2013 Jul;17(13):1782-8.

The effect of pulsed electromagnetic radiation from mobile phone on the levels of monoamine neurotransmitters in four different areas of rat brain.

Aboul Ezz HS, Khadrawy YA, Ahmed NA, Radwan NM, El Bakry MM.

4-BMJ. 2011 Oct 19;343:d6387. doi: 10.1136/bmj.d6387.

Use of mobile phones and risk of brain tumours: update of Danish cohort study.

Frei P1, Poulsen AH, Johansen C, Olsen JH, Steding-Jessen M, Schüz J.