Animal Research and Mobile Phones: Getting a Bad Connection

The Physicians Committee

Beyond Animal Research

By Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D.
July 2004

Animal Research and Mobile Phones: Getting a Bad Connection

A recent article in the British Medical Journal asks “Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans?”1 The authors examined systematic reviews of six areas of animal research and presented evidence that it had not informed human medicine. For two of the six areas, clinical trials were conducted at the same time as the animal studies, and for three others, clinical trials went ahead despite evidence of harm from the animal studies. Overall, the analysis reveals both a practical and a perceived disconnect between animal and human studies. The authors conclude that “new animal studies should not be conducted until...their validity and generalisability to clinical medicine has been assessed.”

In light of these findings, I decided to follow up on a front-page headline of this week’s Sunday Times (London, June 27): “Mobile phones can cut a man’s fertility by a third.”2 The study tracked 221 mobile phone-using men for 13 months. Was this discovery connected with any animal studies, and if so, how might they have informed the human research?

An online search revealed 24 studies published since 2002 on the effects of cell phone radiation on rats and/or mice. These studies examined cancer, hearing, pregnancy, nerve cell damage, and fertility. Virtually no deleterious effects were reported. Of the two fertility studies, one (2003) found that whole body exposure in rats had no effect, and the other (2002) found that exposure to mobile phone emissions actually increased fertility in a nematode worm.

One may ask what value these animal studies have. The rodent fertility study did not reflect the latest clinical findings, and in any event it seems to have been ignored by the clinical researchers. The Times article made no mention of animal studies, and the two approaches seem to proceed independently of each other.

Yet mobile phone research on rodents continues despite a ready source of reliable clinical data available from the hundreds of millions of people now using mobile phones. A study released in 2001 involved 420,000 mobile users, and a team at Nottingham University is planning a new long-term study of 250,000 people. When it comes to the animal studies, the line is busy but there’s a bad connection.

Jonathan Balcolmbe, Ph.D., is a PCRM research consultant with background in ethology. He is the author of The Use of Animals in Higher Education, as well as many articles on humane life science education and scientific papers on animal behavior.

1Pound P, Ebrahim S, Sandercock P, Bracken MB, Roberts I. Where is the evidence that animals research benefits humans? British Medical Journal. 2004;328:514-517.
2Leake J. 2004. Mobile phones can cut a man's fertility by a third. The Sunday Times 27 June, p. 1-2