Impressions from Monte Verità

The 2nd Monte Verita was a well organized meeting, having representative group of scientists but the final outcome feels rather slim. Once again the scientific gathering of the bioelectromagnetics researchers has shown that not only the research does not progress because of the lack of funding, but rather because of the lack of new ideas. In a one word, it is – stagnation.

Thanks to Niels Kuster I had the opportunity to participate in the 2nd Monte Verita meeting. I presented there an overview of the proteomics studies executed so far. My presentation I ended on a very pessimistic note. I quoted fragment of e-mail message describing RF-EMF research. The note I received from my colleague, a prominent proteomics researcher.

I think that this quote pretty well depicts the current state of the research on RF-EMF. This state was, unfortunately, well reflected in the presentations and discussions at the 2nd Monte Verita meeting.

Here are few observations from the meeting; by no means is this a comprehensive overview of what happened in Monte Verita. Because of my “specialty”, my comments concern RF-EMF.

As expected, DNA damage and genotoxicity of RF-EMF was one of the main topics of the meeting. Excellent, as always, was lecture from Primo Schär (Switzerland). There were two interesting comments in his talk. First, was that it might be possible, that when some researchers find DNA damage induced by RF whereas others do not, the both sides might be correct. May be we are using wrong end-point for looking at the RF effects. Meaning, is it possible that the primary “damage” happens elsewhere and the sometimes observed DNA “damage” is a by-product, not always occurring, of the original damage? The other comment was that when DNA “damage” is observed it does not automatically mean that the RF is genotoxic. DNA damage occurs in cells spontaneously and is repaired by cells. Question is whether “RF-induced damage” remains unrepaired or is it repaired as thousands of similar DNA strand breaks occurring spontaneously in cells every day. In short – DNA strand break does not yet mean that the inducing agent is genotoxic. We do not know what is the fate of the “DNA damage” observed in some studies – is it repaired or does it persists in further generations of cells. Considering the efficiency of DNA repair mechanisms in cells one may suspect that the “RF-induced DNA damage” might be repaired… We do not know.

Jim Weaver (USA) was advocating a new approach. In his opinion looking for RF effects using such complex systems as whole animals or even whole cells is difficult when we do not know what the mechanisms of RF effects are. He proposed to start with a simple systems and making them more complex when the new knowledge is generated – the in silico approach. However, I am not certain whether, at the current stage of the knowledge about the RF effects, bioelectromagnetics is ready for the in silico approach. For example, using in silico approach, it is possible to make man-built simple biological membranes, expose them and see how they respond to RF. Then, knowing the response of simple biological membrane, it would be possible to make the system more “complex” and determine how the additional complexity affected the response to RF and so on and so on, make system more and more complex. The problem is what would be the suitable simple system to start research. We do not know what molecules absorb the RF in cells and what happens with them following the absorption of RF. When man-building even the simple biological membrane, we need to decide what kind of lipids and in what proportions should be used, what structural proteins, what functional proteins. In situation when we do not know at all where the RF is absorbed it is possible to make in silico systems that will not respond at all to RF. And if system does not respond – we do not know how to modify it to make it respond. In silico idea is tempting but when we do not have any starting point, molecule candidate for the first absorption of RF, the challenge might be not lesser than when exposing the whole cell to RF.

Buzz of both excitement and skepticism was elicited by the presentation of Boris Pasche (USA). He uses specific RF frequencies for treatment of cancer. As presented, the therapy appears to have impact and increases patients’ survival time and even might cure some kinds of cancer. However, in the discussion were presented concerns that the energy deposited in tissues is extremely small. If such low energy would be confirmed to have impact on biological systems it would be a major breakthrough that would call for the revision of current paradigm. Dosimetry experts were very skeptical and if Boris would not have backing from the observed patient survival data, from the “heat of discussion” one could expect him to be “crucified”. For now it did not happen. New research with good dosimetry support is being planned, both in vitro and in vivo, to confirm the existence of effects.

In the context of the effects induced with only certain RF frequencies, observed by Boris Pasche and also by Igor Belyaev (Slovakia & Russia) and Carl Blackman (USA), I had an interesting coffee-break talk with Zhengping Xu (China). His point was: could it be so that by making “perfect uniform dosimetry” of exposure chambers used in the in vitro studies we might lose effects that might be observed in “not so perfect in their uniformity” exposure chambers? That when the exposure chamber is perfectly tuned it might be tuned to “wrong” parameter(s)? We do not know yet what the “correct” parameters of RF exposure are. This brings to mind the study by David de Pomerai. Using imperfect exposure chamber he saw effects. Once chamber was made perfectly tuned by Motorola engineers the effect disappeared. Could it be so that we might be tuning our exposure chambers to wrong parameters and have problems to see effects. Such perfect tuning is not present in real life exposures when we put phone to our head. Something to think about…

Long time ago, when research into possible health effects was in its beginning, scientists started to look at brain cancer. There were no experimental data suggesting that brain cancer would be the outcome of the exposures. It was rather the idea that when we put radiation emitter to our head, brain is exposed and “brain + radiation = cancer”. Now, when finding cancer is proving to be difficult new “fashion” is appearing. If “radiation + brain ≠ cancer” then, may be, “radiation + brain = neurodegeneration”? We again do not have convincing science to back up this notion but it looks like more and more research effort is going in this direction. What simply terrified me was that the infamous Danish Cohort is looking at neurodegeneration and apparently new “scientific” study is in press. The outcome is, of course, that there is no effect cell phone radiation on neurodegeneration. I wonder how it is possible that pseudo science from the Danish Cohort passes through peer-review. Are reviewers so blinded by the size, or are they simply incompetent or have they conflict of interest? Something is seriously wrong. As I wrote on several occasions, the exposure data in Danish Cohort is not only non existent but it is simply wrong. Here is link to my letter published in the British Medical Journal that explains the gross error of exposure evidence in the Danish Cohort data, and it applies to all Danish Cohort publications “Re: Use of mobile phones and risk of brain tumours: update of Danish cohort study”.

The lack of evidence for RF cancer-link and some evidence for neurodegeneration-link was presented by Meike Mevissen (Switzerland). Her review and analysis of the to date published gene expression studies indicated that genes linked with cancer seem not to be much affected by the RF exposures whereas some genes linked with neurodegeneration are. It is still too weak evidence because only very few studies were executed and available for this analysis. But this avenue should be pursued – screening first and making hypothesis next.

The high-throughput screening of genes, proteins and metabolites seems to be a big problem within the bioelectromagnetics. We do not have mechanism by which RF could affect cells but we look for the effects as a “blind person” would do. Trying everything what is possible within our reach. But because there are thousands of genes, millions of proteins and many metabolites it might take long time before we analyze them all. However, there are methods that allow high-throughput screening and finding what genes, proteins and metabolites respond to RF. With this knowledge it is possible to build knowledge-based hypotheses and determine what physiological processes in cells might be affected and testing them. There however seems to be a handful of influential scientists who strongly oppose use of the high-throughput screening. This is seen in the research output. For example in the last 10 years were published only 12 proteomics studies. Six of them were from my research group. It shows that very few groups do proteomics. The main reason is that it is expensive. And when the research grants are reviewed by opponents of high-throughput screening the outcome is predictable… How it is possible that the use of high-throughput screening methods is very well possible in clinical or pharmacological research but bioelectromagnetics is off limits? On a few occasions I was told, once by a prominent university scientist and then by a prominent industry scientist, that the problem is as follows: using high-throughput screening is always possible to find responding genes or proteins. If such information, before it is confirmed by further studies, is seized by the news media it will cause catchy headlines and problems for the industry. Conclusion from these pseudo-scientists was – do not do high-throughput screening.

Scientific conferences are not only to listen to the presentations or to look at the posters but, for many, they are primarily events where is possible to discuss face-to-face with other scientists. During one of the coffee breaks I had interesting discussion with Myles Capstik (Switzerland). It appeared that we both were frustrated with the scientific quality of many (if not the majority) of animal studies. The problem is that scientists use too few animals. It is often possible to listen to scientific presentations where experiments were performed on just 4-6 animals. Using as few animals as possible, to lower the costs, but, theoretically, enough to claim “statistical significance”. What’s worse based on analysis of responses of 4-6 animals some scientists claim that they have proven that animals do not respond and it directly indicates that people are safe (!). It is a completely wrong idea. Firstly, generalizing on results from so small animal group is not possible. Secondly, if animals do not respond to low level RF exposures it does not mean that humans will not respond. Claiming such is unscientific.

At the end of the conference was organized group work where scientists were divided into several groups and asked to come up with ideas for further research. The outcome was “nothing new under sky”. The same topics the same issues no desire for new methods new approaches. Just repeating and repeating and repeating, ad nauseam of the same stuff (Monte Verita recommendations).

However, there was one interesting statement from Wolfgang Kainz (USA). Besides presenting what his group’s ideas were, he also presented, in a separate slide, what his personal ideas are. And there was a surprise. The first statement from Wolfgang was that: “EMF can affect biological systems on non-thermal level”. This by itself is a far reaching statement, especially when pronounced sitting next to Bernard Veyret (France) formerly for 12 years with ICNIRP and co-author of the mantra that only thermal effects are induced by RF. Bernard did not comment on this “non-thermal surprise”. There was also another not so surprising statement from Wolfgang that: “current safety levels seem to protect public”.

Combination of these two statements from Wolfgang, elicited some comments from the audience. First, Denis Henshaw (UK) opposed the idea that safety standards protect from ELF exposures when there is evidence of children leukemia induced at the levels permitted by the safety limits. Wolfgang did not oppose Denis’ comment. The other comment was from me (Dariusz Leszczynski; Australia). I stated that if Wolfgang agrees that there are non-thermal effects and the ICNIRP safety standards are set to protect only from the thermal effects then we do not know at all whether the current safety standards sufficiently protect the general public. The safety standards do not protect from the non-thermal effects. Wolfgang did not oppose my statement.


22 thoughts on “Impressions from Monte Verità

  1. Pingback: Anniversary with WordPress: Five years of BRHP blogging | BRHP – Between a Rock and a Hard Place

  2. Pingback: BioEM2013: Therapeutic applications prove the existence of non-thermal effects | BRHP – Between a Rock and a Hard Place

  3. Biron, commenting on Science & Wireless 2012 post is restored. Sorry for the glitch…

  4. Biron, I am as puzzled as you about the “comments closed”. I tried to look at settings but found nothing where I could change it. I will need to contact wordpress to find out what happened. Must be some “automatic” stuff that got turned on by error… At least I did not close comments. Comments should be possible always to old posts too.

  5. Hello Professor!

    Why are the comments closed on the new site: “Science & Wireless 2012?”

    I would like to say that I am very interested in this conference, it seems to have some balance. Elwood’s excellent reviews on epidemiological studies of antenna are accessible to most people with an engineering and science background. I do look forward to his presentation.

    I notice that Michael Peleg posts here — he penned a study of a cancer cluster on an antenna range — so there is definitely the possibility for some interesting discussion on your blog.



  6. Hello Professor Dennis L Henshaw, Thank you so much for this clarification! To clarify what I meant. I myself am convinced that we and our environment are affected by wireless systems. It may be because I am Swedish and that what I wrote was not quite that good english 🙂 If so, I apologize. I just wanted an answer of the question of how we really can get to know about studies showing that it is true that we can be EHS. There are many who claim the opposite … As I said, it’s really interesting. By the way, I informed the Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation about the Childhood Cancer 2012, but I haven’t heard from them at all…

  7. My point is that ICNIRP safety limits account on ly for thermal effects. There are also non-thermal effects. We do not know yet if non-thermal effects cause harm or not. However, it means that it is not possible to say that the current ICNIRP standards protect us all. We do not know if they protect us from non-thermal effects, assuming that the non-thermal effects cause any harm. We do not know. Wolfgang’s statement had no logic. In a way he wanted to have it both way…

  8. Dear Mr Lagertedt

    The largest body of evidence on human electro-sensitivity pre-dates sensitivity to man-made devices. It concerns acute health effects arising from geomagnetic storms, specifically involving magnetic field fluctuations around 100 nanotesla (nT). Increased depression, melatonin disruption and heart rate fluctuations are some of the effects reported.

    I’m not sure what you mean about animals not responding to RF? They certainly do in one regard, the disruption of the magnetic compass in megahertz EMFs. Robins are reported to be disrupted at fields as low at 15nT and the American cockroach between 12- 18 nT. This is a resonance effect in the Radical Pair Mechanism and such sensitivity may not be seen at other frequencies. This was all in my ITIS talk. See also: You can also see the slides and the video of my talk at Childhood Cancer 2012 at:
    Click on ’view presentations’, scroll to Wednesday, 25th April 2012, session 7, – Non-ionising radiation at 13.45, 3rd talk.


    Denis Henshaw

  9. Hello Dariusz,
    I’m no scientist, just an ordinary person with much interest in this field. I wonder why there has not been any studies done on people who claims they are electro sensitive (or maybe there has been?) and whether if this really are for real with regards to the statement “Secondly, if animals do not respond to low level RF exposures it does not mean that humans will not respond.” I think it would be wrong to dismiss these peoples reactions but how could we know for sure that it is for real?

    Thanks for a very interesting blog 🙂

  10. Dariusz, I like your comments very much. I think they particularly apply to the issue of brain tumour risk from mobile phone use as well as to the presentation of Boris Pasche.

    It is always a mystery to me that there is any surprise that mobile phone use results in increased risk of brain tumours. I guess that most current epidemiological studies concern GSM phones. As was confirmed by Niels Kuster, ITIS produced a major report on the ELF magnetic field associated with the battery from such phones which can expose the head to tens of microtesla (Tour et al 2005). It so happens that aggregated analysis of occupational studies of ELF MF exposure to sub-microtesla fields, involving up to 35 independent odds ratios, shows strong evidence of association with brain tumours (O’Carroll and Henshaw 2008, Kheifets et al 2008). The evidence, in principle, allows risk factors for cumulative MF exposure to be estimated. An effect would be clearly predicted for mobile phone use. Why then is there any issue that GSM mobile phone use at least, increases the risk of brain tumours?

    Boris Pasche reported the use of low intensity RF EMFs for the treatment of cancer. However, as I pointed out in my talk, ferritin, the body’s iron store contains 8 nm super paramagnetic particles which amplify an applied field, resulting in much higher values in their vicinity (~1 mT at 50 nm away). Furthermore, there is intriguing evidence for this effect in the work by Sara Stanley et al (2012) at the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, Rockefeller University, New York. These authors used applied 465 kHz RF fields at 5 mT to regulate plasma glucose in mice. The key transducer was artificially manufactured nano-particles which produced heating in their vicinity, but not in the tissue in general. Crucially, these authors found that ferritin, with its SP particles was almost as effective. In Dr Pasche’s work is there a specific heating effect around SP nano-particles in ferritin, and/or are these particles amplifying the applied field? If so, we have a causal pathway for his observations.


    Tuor M, Ebert S, Schuderer J, Kuster N. Assessment of ELF Exposure from GSM Handsets and Development of an Optimized RF/ELF Exposure Setup for Studies of Human Volunteers. Foundation for Research on Information Technologies in Society, Report: BAG Reg. No. 2.23.02.-18/02.001778, Zurich, January 2005.

    Kheifets L, Monroe J, Vergara X, Mezei G, Afifi AA. 2008. Occupational electromagnetic fields and leukaemia and brain cancer: An update to two meta-analyses. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) 50:677-688.

    O’Carroll MJ, Henshaw DL. 2008. Aggregating epidemiological evidence: comparing two seminal EMF reviews. Risk Analysis 28:225-234.

    Stanley et al 2012. Radio-Wave Heating of Iron Oxide Nanoparticles Can Regulate Plasma Glucose in Mice. Science 336:604-608: DOI: 10.1126/science.1216753

  11. Dariusz,

    I meant that once Wolfgang stated that “current safety levels seem to protect public”
    then he did not really stood up against the ICNIRP, even that he admitted non thermal effects. So no worries for Veyret at the bottom line.

    If you think ICNIRP gives false assurances of protection, while you do not know whether non thermal lead to health effects, how does it square together?
    It’s like saying that non thermal effects were not proven to lead to health effects.
    Isn’t science about proof before considering non thermal in the standard?


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  14. David

    I thought that I had heard that ‘Motorola’ (Via Mays S or Quirino B) gave you the copper TEM cells that you used for most of your group’s later work following the first announcement of your positive results in the Nature letter? Were those copper TEM cells nothing to do with Motorola? Who designed those TEM cells?

    I have long thought that uniform fields are part of the problem. In the near field of a cellphone held close to the body both the electric and magnetic fields are extremely complex. There are also quite strong real ELF magnetic fields from the battery currents which rise and fall with the RF modulated signal power – these may be an important co-factor. Real magnetic fields that exist inside many standard lab incubators (from fans and from electric heater elements) are also a strong potential confounder that often are not even assessed for ELF magnetic by RF bio-effects researchers.

    Best regards

  15. Michael,

    I agree that stress response is one of the known leads that should be followed. I pointed it out in my lecture that reviewed proteomics studies.


  16. Dug,

    Bernard should opposed the statement made by Wolfgang and defend his and ICNIRP’s view…

    1. If we accept that there are non-thermal effects of RF (I for one think so) then ours safety standardsare inadequate. The current safety standards protect only from thermal effects (temperature increase over 1 deg.C). Any other effects are not accounted for in the se standards. I do not know whether the non-thermal effects lead to health effects. However, statements that the current safety standards protect well are false because the non-thermal effects are not considered in them.

    2. “Where do the industry funded studies stand in this context?” – I do not have enough information to comment.


  17. Hello Dariusz,
    Thank you for the very interesting report. I guess you are right about the need for new directions. Still I think there are also known leads not followed. May I present the
    one I am aware of?
    The paper
    Friedman J., Kraus S., Hauptman Y., Schiff Y., Seger R.: “Mechanism of short-term ERK activation by electro-magnetic fields at mobile phone frequencies” Biochem J. 2007; 405(3):559-568.
    demonstrated in a cell culture that a biological process in human cells involving reactive oxygen species (ROS) and identified exactly at the molecular level was initiated by a weak RF field.
    The paper
    C.D. Georgiou: Oxidative stress-induced biological damage by low-level EMFs: mechanisms of free radical pair electron spin-polarization and biochemical amplification , Eur. J. Oncol. – Library Vol. 5 2010
    proposes that reactive oxygen species are released by RF-induced changes in electron spins.
    My paper (which is vastly less innovative than the other two paper mentioned)
    Peleg M., “Bioelectromagnetic phenomena are affected by aggregates of many radio-frequency photons”, the International Conference on Environmental Indicators, 2011,Haifa, Available at, section The relevance of the RF photon concept to some phenomena
    points out the well known fact that weak RF fields increase the rate of small changes of some energy states of molecules by a huge factor. Changes in electron spins in MASERs are maybe the most known example of such transitions.
    This combination seems to point to a possible mechanism of interaction, of course it may not be the right one.
    Best regards,

  18. Pingback: Forskningsläget och Dariusz Leszczynskis intryck från Monte Verità | Mobilstrålningen i vår livsmiljö – En påtvingad hälsorisk

  19. Dariusz,

    I agree entirely with your comments on this blog.

    I found the suggestion by your Chinese colleague quite intriguing – the idea that tuning the exposure chamber for optimised uniform field conditions might actually lead to RF effects disappearing. You were correct to cite my old study here, but as a point of record the Motorola engineers never did anything to our TEM cell – they merely applied FDTD modelling to it. The later modifications were implemented at the suggestion of the UK National Physical Laboratory – who actually measured the SAR and temperature distribution within both cells. That was indeed the point at which the HSP-inducing effect of weak RF fields vanished completely. But I have to say that the biggest reduction in this response was between the original aluminium TEM cell (compared against shielded controls in the same incubator) and the two matched copper cells (one live, one sham). But where should one go with that? Arguably the early experiments didn’t use a proper sham-controlled design and should be regarded as invalid anyway….

    A propos the potential link between RF and neurodegeneration, I ran a summer project last year in which we used a FRET-based C. elegans assay to monitor alpha-synuclein aggregation. This is very sensitive to low doses of chemical toxicants such as mercury (we can detect increased synuclein aggregation at 2-5 micrograms per litre of Hg – at least 20-fold lower than the doses needed to induce heat-shock proteins or metallothioneins), but there was absolutely no sign of increased aggregation resulting from RF exposure. I’m in the process of writing this up as a brief communication for Bioelectromagnetics, so this story should appear in print eventually. But I’m afraid it’s yet another negative finding – but there’s also an argument that C. elegans isn’t a good model for looking at RF bioeffects.
    Best regards,

  20. Dariusz: The ITIS meeting opened with talks by Paul Gailey and me summarising what we felt were key aspects of the interaction of electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields with biological systems. Our focus was mainly on low, including power frequency (ELF) magnetic fields (MFs). Between us we highlighted aspects of MF and EMF interactions which are rarely mentioned at Bioelectromagnetics meetings, namely:

    • The substantial literature on acute adverse health effects from 100 nano-tesla (nT) MF changes in the Geomagnetic storms – fluctuations lasting a few days in the Earth’s static magnetic arising from solar flare activity. These effects include increases in depressive illnesses, melatonin disruption, heart rate variability, blood pressure changes and interference with the homing ability of pigeons.

    • The substantial literature on magnetoreception in plants and animals.

    • The role of magnetite and other magnetic minerals in animal magnetoreception and navigation across numerous species. Evidence suggests that homing pigeons, for example, can detect MF changes as low as 10 nT. Magnetic particles, some have been mapped in the human brain with sizes up to 600 nm, are well capable of transducing low intensity ELF fields.

    • The role of super-paramagnetic (SP) particles, for example the 8 nm SP particles found in ferritin, the body’s iron store, which can effectively amplify sub-microtesla fields resulting in milli-tesla fields in their vicinity.

    • The role of the Radical Pair Mechanism, RPM, in which low intensity MFs can alter the spin states of free radical pairs effectively increasing their lifetime and availability to cause biological damage. This is a quantum-mechanical effect operating at an energy level some 10 million times lower that thermal energies. There is strong evidence that the RPM forms the basis of the avian magnetic compass, acting on cryptochromes in the eye and which has been shown to be disrupted by radio frequency (~1 MHz) EMFs as low as 15 nT. Cryptochromes control circadian rhythms and their disruption affects cancer risk in man.

    While the above processes are concerned mainly with ELF MFs, we should expect that they also have relevance to RF fields.

    Separately, we heard the report from Jukka Juutilainen of genomic instability, GI induced in cells by ELF fields. In the mid-1990s, GI produced a paradigm changes in how ionising radiation acts on cells. For 50 years we had seen experiments where cells were irradiated and studied at the first meta-phase. If no damage was seen, then it was deemed that no damage had occurred. However, GI refers to the appearance of DNA damage many cell divisions (typically 10-15) after the initial exposure. The discovery of GI in ELF MF exposed cells, surely will mark a similar paradigm change in bio-electromagnetic thinking.

    I agree, Dariusz, that Bioelectromagnetics meetings tend to have a narrow focus when viewed against the known science of Bioelectromagnetics. However, I did find the ITIS meeting particularly stimulating and I do congratulate Professor Niels Kuster and his colleagues for putting it on.

    I gather a pdf of my talk, along with that of others, will be mage available. Meanwhile, earlier versions may be found at:

    1. http://www.electric-fiields, – access from the top page


    Click on ’view presentations’, scroll to Wednesday, 25th April 2012, session 7, – Non-ionising radiation at 13.45, 3rd talk.

    Denis L Henshaw
    University of Bristol


    Children with Cancer UK.

  21. Dariusz,

    Thanks for the overview.

    While I agree that Wolfgang contradicted himself (this is probably the reason that Veyret did not bother to comment- Wolfgang did not really give him a reason to), is your opinion that we do not know at all whether the current safety standards sufficiently protect the general public?

    You wrote: Once chamber was made perfectly tuned by Motorola engineers the effect disappeared. What do you think in this context, about Primo Schär’s comment that there might be possible, that when some researchers find DNA damage induced by RF whereas others do not, both sides might be correct?
    Where do the industry funded studies stand in this context?


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