President’s Column


Niels Kuster
October 2008

Despite substantial public and industry funding in recent decades, bioelectromagnetic research has progressed very little. A significant impediment to the progress has been the focus on health risk concerns for a majority of the conducted studies. These studies have fundamental limitations, as daily exposure cannot be represented by only a few exposure conditions. Additionally, the reasonably achievable sensitivity of biological experiments is far below the basic requirements in relation to the ubiquitousness of EMF; for example, in vivo experiments have a maximum sensitivity of 2% (insufficient when applied to 3 billion mobile users). Epidemiological studies may also be deemed misleading since disease latency cannot be adequately assessed when the technology is replaced approximately every 10 years and the typical exposure scenarios change even faster. It is also not possible to consider in a single experiment all elements of a daily life UMTS exposure that will presumably change significantly every few months due to different applications and usage patterns. Therefore, research that only investigates the effect of communication system x on biological system y is poorly invested money aimed at providing quick, unsubstantiated answers to appease public concerns. Conducting numerous phenomenological experiments of this type will also not necessarily increase the “body of evidence,” a term that is often used loosely for non-scientific purposes.

Only a radical shift in the scientific approach towards interaction mechanism driven research can provide sustainable answers to the possible health risks and to the development of future medical applications. In my opinion, the following two-step approach is the most effective way to make progress since any effects will likely be at the detection limit:

  1. conduct highly sensitive experiments to detect possible “smoking guns”
  2. all effects that appear reproducible must be immediately addressed in depth:
  • increase the robustness of the effect by optimizing exposure parameters (e.g., amplitude, frequency, modulation, intermittency, etc.) and/or by selecting the most sensitive biological system and methods
  • determine the interaction mechanism using this optimized EMF - biological system
  • design experiments relevant to the health risks of specific technologies or medical applications based on knowledge about specific interaction mechanisms

I appeal to all BEMS members to commit to focusing on interaction mechanism driven research when designing and proposing experiments or working in evaluation committees or drafting research programs to funding agencies. In addition, cooperation and collaboration among researchers is essential in this inherently multidisciplinary effort. The need for continued research carefully directed toward answering the salient questions is clear; however, special interests cannot prevail. Funding agencies must commit to supporting this new scientific step-by-step approach, and reject economically and politically motivated research.