7 January 2010
Cell phones reverse Alzheimer's in mice
by Kate Melville
A startling new study in mice provides the first evidence that long-term exposure to the electromagnetic emissions from cell phone use may actually protect against - and even reverse - Alzheimer's disease. The study, led by University of South Florida researchers at the Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, was published yesterday in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
"It surprised us to find that cell phone exposure, begun in early adulthood, protects the memory of mice otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer's symptoms," said study author Gary Arendash. "It was even more astonishing that the electromagnetic waves generated by cell phones actually reversed memory impairment in old Alzheimer's mice."
Arendash's team showed that exposing old Alzheimer's mice to electromagnetic waves generated by cell phones erased brain deposits of the harmful protein beta-amyloid, in addition to preventing the protein's build-up in younger Alzheimer's mice. The sticky brain plaques formed by the abnormal accumulation of beta amyloid are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Most of the current treatments against Alzheimer's try to target beta-amyloid.
The new study allowed researchers to isolate the effects of cell phone exposure on memory from other lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. It involved 96 mice, most of which were genetically altered to develop beta-amyloid plaques and memory problems mimicking Alzheimer's disease. Some mice were non-demented, without any genetic predisposition for Alzheimer's, so researchers could test the effects of electromagnetic waves on normal memory as well.
Both the Alzheimer's and normal mice were exposed to the electromagnetic field generated by standard cell phone use for two 1-hour periods each day for seven to nine months. To expose the mice, their cages were arranged around a centrally-located antenna generating the cell phone signal. Each animal was exposed to electromagnetic waves typically emitted by a cell phone pressed up against a human head.
If cell phone exposure was started when the genetically-programmed mice were young adults - before signs of memory impairment were apparent - their cognitive ability was protected. In fact, the Alzheimer's mice performed as well on tests measuring memory and thinking skills as aged mice without dementia. Incredibly, if older Alzheimer's mice already exhibiting memory problems were exposed to the electromagnetic waves, their memory impairment disappeared.
According to Arendash, months of cell phone exposure even boosted the memories of normal mice to above-normal levels. The memory benefits of cell phone exposure took months to show up, he added, suggesting that a similar effect in humans would take years.
Based on their promising and unexpected findings in mice, the researchers concluded that electromagnetic field exposure could be an effective, non-invasive and drug-free way to prevent and treat Alzheimer's disease in humans. They are currently evaluating whether different sets of electromagnetic frequencies and strengths will produce more rapid and even greater cognitive benefits than those found in their current study.
"If we can determine the best set of electromagnetic parameters to effectively prevent beta-amyloid aggregation and remove pre-existing beta amyloid deposits from the brain, this technology could be quickly translated to human benefit against [Alzheimer's disease]," said co-researcher Chuanhai Cao. "Since production and aggregation of �-amyloid occurs in traumatic brain injury, particularly in soldiers during war, the therapeutic impact of our findings may extend beyond Alzheimer's disease."
Interestingly, the researchers found a slight increase in brain temperature during the two one-hour periods when mice were exposed to electromagnetic waves each day. This increase in brain temperature was seen only in the Alzheimer's mice, and only after months of exposure. The researchers speculate the increase in brain temperature helped the Alzheimer's brain to remove newly-formed beta-amyloid by causing brain cells to release it.
The researchers were particularly surprised to discover that months of cell phone exposure actually boosted the memory of normal mice to above-normal levels. They suspect that the main reason for this improvement involves the ability of electromagnetic exposure to increase brain activity, promoting greater blood flow and increased energy metabolism in the brain. "Our study provides evidence that long-term cell phone use is not harmful to brain," Cao said. "To the contrary, the electromagnetic waves emitted by cell phones could actually improve normal memory and be an effective therapy against memory impairment."
"It will take some time to determine the exact mechanisms involved in these beneficial memory effects," Arendash concluded. "One thing is clear, however - the cognitive benefits of long-term electromagnetic exposure are real, because we saw them in both protection- and treatment-based experiments involving Alzheimer's mice, as well as in normal mice."
Source: University of South Florida Health
Photo courtesy of University of South Florida