Retirement and RF Biological Effects

This May is a milestone month for me. I reach 70 and have been retired for two years without adverse consequences. The great thing about retirement is that I have much more time for skiing, diving, golfing and fishing. The downside is that retirement came with a reduction in income and this makes it difficult to afford my expensive activities. However, I derive extra income from consulting and for this I can thank the few scientists and activists that continue to drive the issue of low-level non-thermal RF adverse biological health effects (LLNT effects). This issue has become a political topic that in the long run could be detrimental to our Society. I would like to discuss this topic from the perspective of my retirement.

The state of the science is that (1) an analysis of physical interactions provides no testable hypothesis for LLNT effects or, in other words, provides no direction to experimentalists in conducting research. Now that’s a very good scientific and politically correct way of saying that analysis by good theoretical physicists suggests that nothing is going to happen but the deposition of additional energy that, if sufficient, can elevate tissue temperature. But physicists don’t know everything so we turn to the biologists and find (2) that an analysis of the biological database reveals no consistently reproducible (independent) LLNT effect after about 50 or 60 years of research.

These facts are devastating. What can be said for all these years of research and funding approaching a half billion dollars? In defense of the past effort, bioeffects research along with dosimetric studies by BEMS members have formed the fundamental basis for current safety standards and this represents a real positive contribution.

The survival and growth of BEMS, however, depend on significant positive contributions to the understanding of biological processes and the possible use of electromagnetic energy in affecting those processes. We also must attract young scientists with studies leading to repeatable findings of lasting importance. I attended a review of a national program (in an unnamed country) on LLNT effects several years ago. The senior researchers were stating that this was a good program to train young scientists. I rose out of my chair and strongly objected. I mentioned the history of this area and stated the odds were that results from the program would either show no effect or result in a non-reproducible effect. Such results would not be something on which a young scientist could build a lasting career. I suggested instead that the senior scientists do the proposed studies and provide the students with something that had long-term research potential, for example, in another area of bems6519tomagnetics.

I believe the physics of interaction, that is not that complicated, should be a guide to current and future BEMS research. The body functions on electrical interactions (electrostatic or low frequency fields). If you wish to affect those functions, then apply an exogenous field that is on the order of the endogenous field. This has nothing to do with fancy modulation schemes or magical processes but may require some unique delivery system. We have made little progress with understanding how applied fields may affect the bone healing process and how to optimize this process. We know that endogenous fields play a role in both bone and soft tissue healing. It has been observed, particularly with skin wounds, that enhancing the endogenous field speeds the process and opposing the field inhibits the healing process. So what is the role that these endogenous fields play in bone and wound healing? What are their magnitude and direction? When is it useful to intervene with exogenous fields and how is this best done? These are important and interesting questions addressing potentially beneficial applications based on the body’s endogenous fields.

There are a number of other areas of research that are of interest to me. The work of electroporation and supra-electroporation has promise. Modeling of the interaction of high peak pulses with cells already shows how they interact with the cell and nuclear membrane and lend themselves to the possibility of affecting cell function. A second example of interest is the likelihood of observing vibrational or other modes in the THz frequency range that have biological significance using THz spectroscopy. This could provide additional understanding of biomolecular processes.

I don’t intend to present an exhaustive list of areas of current or possible bioelectromagnetics research that have a firm basis in current scientific thought nor do I intend to discourage any reasonable degree of speculative research. However, the scientific society, BEMS, must find a balance that leads to long-term growth and stability and the members of the society must learn “when to hold them or when to fold them.” And to the activists, I say keep up the “good work” that continues to keep this issue in the media and politically active. I like the extra dollars that allow me to spend more time enjoying my hobbies.

  1. A. R. Sheppard, M. L. Swicord and Q. Balzano, “Quantitative Evaluations of Mechanisms of Radiofrequency Interactions with Biological Molecules and processes,” Health Physics, Accepted for publication
  2. M. Swicord and Q. Balzano, “Has Electromagnetic Energy in the Band 0.1-100 GHz Useful Medical Applications? A Review of Mechanisms and Biological Database Offers Dim Prospects,”. Special Issue of the IEEE Trans. Plasma Science, Accepted for publication

Mays Swicord, Ph.D.