Since mobile phones were introduced to markets in 1983, mobile phone use has increased dramatically, with over 5 billion user subscriptions in 2019. Almost half of Australian children aged 6 to 13 now own, or have regular access to, the devices.

While the social and economic value of these devices and their applications are exponential, the potential adverse health effects from long term exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic energy (RF-EME) has raised concern worldwide, particularly when in reference to our children’s increasing use from a younger age.

Professor Chao Deng, who has trained in developmental neuroscience and animal behaviour, and Professor Rodney Croft, an international leader in bioelectromagnetics research, have spent considerable time investigating the effects of RF-EME. With the assistance of an NHMRC Ideas Grant, they will be able to investigate specifically how this new generation that has not seen life without the mobile phone is being impacted by increasing exposure.

Chao Deng WIDE
Professor Chao Deng

“Childhood and adolescence represent a critical period of brain development that could be sensitive to environmental exposure, including RF-EME. Yet, surprisingly, there are few studies investigating the exposure of juveniles to RF-EME during this developmental period,” Prof Deng, who is the Illawarra Health and Research Institutes’s (IHMRI) Head of Antipsychotic Research Laboratory, said.

“Consequences of RF-EME exposure to brain development and behaviour are largely unknown.”

“Our project aims to address this important and urgent issue by systematically investigating effects of RF-EME exposure in developing brains (during the childhood-adolescent period) on behaviours and neurotransmissions using a well-established developmental rat model, developed in our laboratory.”

The research will see male and female juvenile rats exposed to a range of frequencies administered over a range of times in an electromagnetic reverberation chamber.

“A series of behavioural tests will test locomotor activity, anxiety and depressive-like behaviour, social interaction, and cognitive functions. After the behavioural tests are completed, the brain of juvenile rats will be collected to examine potential changes in dopaminergic, serotonergic, GABAergic and glutamatergic neurotransmission systems.”

The research is timely: 5G technology promises blisteringly fast download speeds but has also inspired a broad range of conspiracy theories – including many that claim the technology negatively impacts health.

Rodney Croft WIDE
Professor Rodney Croft

“Our findings will generate very highly significant research outcomes, in which we have established expertise to ensure the research outcomes are suitable for national and international RF-EME guidelines implementation,” Prof Deng said.

The results of the project, titled Exposures of mobile phone radiofrequency electromagnetic energy in juveniles: effects on brain development and behaviours, will provide scientific research for health authorities and government agencies such as the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) to evaluate safety guidelines (e.g. ARPANSA RPS3).

The research will also contribute to the development of safety standards for wireless products and provide essential scientific knowledge to the public so that people can make informed choices with regard to the risks and benefits of wireless technologies and associated RF-EME.