GERoNiMO: A new European EMF research project

Interview with GERoNiMO leader, Prof. Elisabeth Cardis, follows in the next BRHP post

In 2012 EU published the following call for new EMF research:

ENV.2013.6.4-2 Closing gaps of knowledge and reducing exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) – FP7-ENV-2013-two-stage

As previous studies have been inconclusive as regards possible health effects of exposure to EMFs, further research should be carried out to better understand the possible mechanisms generating biological effects through the use of novel approaches, as well as to collect and improve exposure and health risk assessment of EMFs, and also to underpin policy development. A large-scale prospective population study – that could reach beyond the EU – could be envisaged to investigate, inter alia, the role of radiofrequency (RF) exposures in cancer risk, neurodegenerative diseases, reproductive problems, behaviour and ageing, and exposure and health effects from intermediate frequency (IF) fields. More data on cumulative personal exposures from various sources should be collected. The research should also propose non technological means to reduce exposure.

Funding scheme: Collaborative Project; The requested EU contribution per project shall not exceed EUR 6 000 000.; Up to one proposal can be selected.

Expected impact:

Support to EU and national regulatory bodies and policies by improving reliability of research data on potential effects of EMF exposures. Contribution to EU risk assessment and management activities through an improved evaluation of cumulative and integrated personal exposure. Application of novel approaches (e.g. systems biology) to EMF health research. Underpinning of non-technological means to reduce exposures.

As a result of this call, and as planned, one project costing ca. 6million was funded:

GERoNiMO: Generalized EMF research using novel methods. An integrated approach: from research to risk assessment and support to risk management. 

Request from the EU was very demanding and covered broad area of EMF. It called not only for research to close gaps in RF research but, on top of it, also IF research. It is clear that some Brussels bureaucrats do not understand science. It is impossible for this amount of money to produce enough of good science on RF and IF.

Scientists, unfortunately, had to comply with Brussels request, if they wanted to secure grant. The outcome is an “elephant on clay legs”. I wish them well but I am concerned that it is an overly-ambitious plan that will be extremely difficult to execute.

Few comments on different work-packages (WP).

WP 1

By combining and comparing findings in these different cohorts GERoNiMO will have large and in-depth datasets to evaluate RF exposure from different sources during different age windows; this has not been achieved before.”

It is ambitious plan. Let us hope that scientists of GERoNiMO will not do what scientists of Interphone did – disagree on interpretation of results leading to split within the project and in spite of publishing all data together, arbitrarily splitting data and publishing them separately. Time will show…

WP 2

WP2 aims to evaluate the possible association between exposure to RF and IF and the risk of brain tumours in young people and, if appropriate, to evaluate possible interaction with other potential risk factors.”

This WP consists of two separate parts. One is continuation of the MOBI-KIDS project. Time is needed to see how this project will work out.

The other part of this WP is study of the effects of IF. I dare to predict that it will fail badly because of the numbers. It is difficult to expect that the effects, if any, of the IF will be strong. How scientists expect to see any effects with the planned very small group of subjects: “Information on IF exposure sources will be collected for approximately 500 cases and their respective controls (2 controls per case, matched on age, gender and region).”? They will not find anything and will conclude that the examined group is too small to detect small risks… We heard such explanations already before. Why, yet again?

WP 3

It is about occupational exposures. An interesting project is planned in Finland. It is to examine whether IF exposures have impact on number of children “produced” by young women working either as cashiers or elsewhere in the shop. Hopefully, ambitious plan of recruiting 10.000 cases and the same number of controls will work out. There is also an interesting non-EMF issue to consider: how 8 hours of sitting as cashier compares with 8 hours of carrying goods in shop in respect to having babies? If difference will be observed will it be due to IF or because of other, IF-unrelated, life-style issues? Is 10.000 enough to see a small risk?

WP 4

To investigate mechanisms that may link exposure to RF and IF to behavioural and reproductive effects, as well as cancer, ageing and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) using a series of interlinked animal and cellular models and systems biology. Where appropriate, joint effects with chemical exposures will also be evaluated.”.

Extremely optimistic plan. IT has it all, RF, IF, chemicals and as endpoints reproduction, cancer, aging and Alzheimer’s. It might be too optimistic for the funding provided by EU – there is not enough manpower to do it all and well. As stated only two centers will be involved in animal research “WP4 experimental studies will be performed by PHE and UEF”. Also money is not enough. For example NTP project in USA studies only RF effects and its costs was, in 2004, estimated at over $10million. It is more than the whole funding for GERoNiMO. Cutting corners might happen…

WP 5

In background is a very relevant statement “many studies have been performed with RF but the lack of consistency in methods and reporting, problems with the replication of results, and a lack of understanding of their possible health consequences in humans limit the conclusions that can be drawn.”

Indeed it is the current situation. However, GERoNiMO does not try to improve our understanding of the in vitro observed effects on human health. Effects that are observed in vitro should be replicated in human volunteers whenever ethically permissible. This is not happening at all. There is disconnection between in vitro and in vivo research. In vitro findings are not examined in vivo in human volunteers and their meaning to human physiology remains unknown. This leads to an easy dismissal of in vitro findings as of little consequence to human health. Disappointingly, GERoNiMO does not address this issue.

Scientists plan using new approaches what is good. Time will show how it will work out. However, again, there is a lot to do: “IF fields at frequencies of 7.5 kHz and 13.56 MHz will be used, corresponding to exposure from EAS devices and many RFID devices, respectively. This choice of frequencies will also help to cover the two modes of IF field interactions with biological matter: at 7.5 kHz, the dominant coupling mechanism is induced currents while at 13.56 MHz dielectric relaxation is also occurring. RF fields to be used will have different modulations (e.g., CW, GSM, UMTS, WiMAX, LTE) at carrier frequencies ranging from 1800 to 3500 MHz.”. Very ambitious plan but is funding sufficient?

WP 6

Assessment of total exposures in real life is important for the epidemiology studies. This work-package will attempt to find out to what cumulative doses of EMF we are exposed in daily life.

WP 7

The last sentence in description of this package is “health impacts in the European population will be estimated under the various scenarios.”. It is not the first project with so extremely ambitious plan. Thus far they failed. Will GERoNiMO, as its namesake Apache Geronimo, surrender in the end? As many times I mentioned above – time will show. We will know, or not, in 5 years…

WP 8

Intentions are self-explanatory after reading the title of WP8:  “Input to future risk management and communication processes and advice on non-technological means to reduce exposure”.

I just wonder why, before it is known what data on RF and IF impact on human health GERoNiMO will produce, the scientists already predict and assume that the only risk-related advice will be on non-technological means to reduce exposure?

My final impression is that there is too little time and money to execute this very broad and scientifically ambitious project.