2 November 2000

EMF Damages Mice Ovaries

by Kate Melville

Mice ovarian follicles exposed to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF) fail to develop properly in many cases, according to Italian scientists involved in researching the effects of ELF-EMF on living organisms.

They found that exposure of mouse pre-antral follicles to ELF-EMF significantly reduced the development of their crucial central cavity (the antrum). The findings are published today (Tuesday 31 October) in Human Reproduction*.

The scientists - from the University of L'Aquilia and University La Sapienza in Rome - would like to see similar research on human ovarian follicles. However, in humans this is currently very difficult technically but studies in animals could be extended.

Research leader Dr Sandra Cecconi, from the University of L'Aquilia, said: "Our results raise concerns that ELF-EMF exposure might impair female reproductive potential by reducing the capacity of follicles to reach the developmental stage that is an essential prerequisite for successful reproduction."

People are exposed to ELF-EMF daily in the home or at work through power lines and the use of appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and kettles, as a magnetic field is generated every time an electrical device functions and an electrical field is also present when an appliance is on standby.

Dr Cecconi said that little had been done to study the potential role for ELF-EMF on the development of mammalian reproduction so their study was designed to see whether ELF-EMF could affect ovarian follicle development in mice.

They exposed isolated mouse ovarian follicles that were at the pre-antral development stage for five days to ELF-EFM at 33Hz or 50Hz frequencies. On day five, only around a third of the follicles exposed to 33Hz and half of those exposed to 50Hz developed antral cavities compared with 80% of controls.

"We don't know yet why this happens but our results indicate ELF-EMF may affect the regulatory mechanism controlling the somatic (non-germ) cells in the follicle."

Dr Cecconi said that more research would be needed to discover exactly how ELF-EMF was impairing the physiological process. It was also important to undertake research to see whether ELF-EMF exposure produced a similar effect on human ovarian follicles.

"At this stage we have no idea whether the same effect would be found, but it would seem prudent to investigate. But human infertility is very complex and many factors can combine to reduce fertility, and in every woman these factors are likely to be different."