Technology advancement has revolutionised the way in which we live with radio frequency and microwave-based technologies constantly emerging and evolving to meet our modern, urbanised environment. The question soon poses itself as to what implications these transmissions are having on our health. Communication, travel and the treatment of life threatening conditions such as cancer and heart disease all rely on the use of a variety of radio frequencies and microwaves from radar to thermal ablation.
Researchers funded by the Swansea University led National Research Network (NRN) in Advanced Engineering and Materials, have brought this issue to the table once more, with their most recent breakthrough being published in Applied Physics Letters addressing the risk these technologies pose at the molecular level of our biological make up.
Dr Catrin F Williams of Cardiff University, who led the team, said: "In order to tackle this important issue, we are adopting a 'bottom-up' approach. In the first instance, we want to understand what interactions are occurring at the sub-cellular or molecular level. We will then increase the complexity in order to understand what is happening on a whole-human level, i.e. whether these interactions lead to therapeutic (treatment) or destructive (disease) outcomes."
The team initially carried out research into understanding these biological concerns using a bioluminescent marine bacterium, Vibrio fisheri. Using this particular bacterium they were able to investigate the effect that microwaves would have on light emission from this organism using pulsed electromagnetic fields.
Having separated both the electric and magnetic fields, by using a resonant microwave cavity, the results showed the bacteria giving repeated responses and recovery to irradiation. This result proved significant, highlighting the direct interaction a living organism has with a microwave electric field, such as those generated in mobile phone technology.
As it stands there is a clear variant in current safety standards for human exposure to electromagnetic fields across the world, with many governments only considering the thermal effects of EMFs to be a danger despite the growing evidence supporting the link between non-thermal mechanisms of EMFs and the consequential impact it has to our health.
Although in its early stages of research, their result is driving Dr Williams and her team to now further their findings with the use of this hybrid experimental system to discover the effect these microwaves could have upon other biological systems such as living tissue, mammalian cells in culture as well as on the components of purified cells.
"With billions of people worldwide in possession of a mobile phone it is within the public interest to pursue all available avenues of investigation into both the thermal and non-thermal effects of EMFs," added Dr Williams.
"Possible therapeutic outcomes include fine-tuning of microwave thermal ablation procedures, which are well established for the treatment of cardiac arrhythmias and cancers."
Now collaborations with health organisations such as the Welsh Heart Research Institute could prove vital to further the understanding and consequences modern living could be posing to our vital organs even down to the societal effect it could pose on child development through the exposure to wireless technologies.
Dr Williams said: "We are still in the early stages of this project; therefore it is not possible to say for sure whether any of our observed effects translate to an in vivo human scenario. However, the next step for our research is to use the experimental set-up described in the paper to investigate the effects of microwave fields on live human heart cells by collaborating with Dr Christopher George at the Welsh Heart Research Institute."
Although there is still no evidence within the general population to demonstrate the true impact this interaction is having, Dr Williams and her team are a step closer to exposing the effects microwave electromagnetic fields have to our health.
Used in everyday items from our Wi-Fi to our phones the question no longer looks at the possible magnetic field dangers but directly to the transmissions from those everyday objects that we so seemingly depend upon.