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Exposure to low-level magnetic fields causes DNA damage in rat brain cells, researchers find

Prolonged exposure to low-level magnetic fields, similar to those emitted by such common household devices as blow dryers, electric blankets and razors, can damage brain cell DNA, according to researchers in the University of Washington's Department of Bioengineering. The scientists further found that the damage from brief exposures appears to build up over time.

The new study is scheduled to be published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal of the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, and is available now on the Internet.

In the study, the researchers discovered that rats exposed to a 60-hertz field for 24 hours showed significant DNA damage, and rats exposed for 48 hours showed even more breaks in brain cell DNA strands. Exposure also resulted in a marked increase in brain cell apoptosis, or "cell suicide," a process in which a cell self-destructs because it can't repair itself.

A previous study showed similar damage, but it was conducted at 10 times the intensity and rats were exposed for just two hours. That indicates that the effects of exposure are cumulative, and duration can be as damaging as intensity, said Henry Lai, a UW research professor who conducted the study with fellow UW bioengineer Narendra Singh. "In real life, people get this kind of exposure in brief doses three minutes of exposure to a blow dryer, five minutes of exposure to an electric razor," Lai said. "We found that this could add up over time and could eventually lead to some health effect." Since Lai first reported findings of magnetic field-induced DNA damage in 1995, several laboratories in Europe and India have reported similar effects.

Traditionally, scientists have held that low-level electromagnetic fields couldn't be harmful because they weren't potent enough to break chemical bonds in a living organism. Lai doesn't disagree he simply suspects a more subtle mechanism i
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Contact: Rob Harrill
rharrill@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
18-Feb-2004


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