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Every time a mobile phone call is made or received, the handset user inevitably absorbs radiation. According to Dr Malka N Halgamuge from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Engineering, the effects of this on our health won’t provide specific answers for at least another decade so its best to take precautions with useage.

“The level of radiation emitted from your phone depends on a phone’s specific absorption rate (SAR) and this can vary with the brand of phone you buy," she says.

According to Dr Halgamuge, while most well known brands in the market have a low SAR reading, that doesn’t mean you’re safe to talk for as long as you like.

“While mobile phones have saved more lives than they may have harmed, using mobile phones for several hours a day could be a problem; as mobile phone radiation affects the temporal lobe (behind the ear) it could affect memory function in developing brains,” she says.

In 2007 Dr Halgamuge worked with the Department of Neurosurgery at Lund University Hospital in Sweden to investigate the biological effects on rats of radio frequencies emitted from mobile phones.

“The main thing we looked at was the leakage of albumin – a protein in the blood that is toxic to the brain – through the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) which protects the brain,” she says.

“We found that albumin leakage increased when rats were exposed to radio frequency from the phone, and after exposure to extremely low frequency from the phone battery.”

Rats used in the study were aged between 12 and 26 weeks, a stage in development regarded as similar when comparing blood-brain barriers to that of teenagers. Dr Halgamuge says considering this, there is good reason to be alarmed that mobile phones could have the same effects on humans.

“While our findings are alarming, our research only looked at short-term exposure and there is a possibility that neurons would repair themselves as time goes on so perhaps the problem is reversible,” she says.

The most extensive research project into the health effects of mobile phone use is currently being conducted under the direction of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The results of Project Interphone, which involves scientists from 13 countries, are due to be published later this year. Until then, Dr Halgamuge suggests the tips in the panel to the left as a precautionary approach.

More information

Emma O’Neill, Media Officer
t: +61 3 8344 7220, m: 0432 758734, e: eaoneill@unimelb.edu.au