Wetenschap - 26 november 2011

Immune system does not respond to electromagnetic fields

Electromagnetic fields do not seem to have any verifiable effects on the human immune system, research in Wageningen shows.


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Our surroundings are chock-full of low frequency electromagnetic fields. We can no longer imagine life without wifi, cell phones and all kinds of domestic appliances. But the effect of these on our health is unclear. Mark Bouwens (Immunology) researches into the effect on human immune cells.
Monocytes and macrophages are important substances in the immune system which man is born with. They respond to intruders by producing cytokines which have a major function in setting off or blocking immune reactions. Bouwens and his colleagues activated monocytes and macrophages and then exposed them to low frequency electromagnetic fields. Bouwens: 'We wanted to find out if differences in the production of signal substances can be detected.'
'Dirty power'
The electromagnetic fields were provided by a commercial product from Immunent in Veldhoven. Earlier studies seemed to suggest that chicks grow faster and fishes live longer under the influence of the Immunent signal. The signal is similar to the so-called 'dirty power' from an electrical socket, according to Professor Huub Savelkoul of Immunology. 'A random signal of low field strength whereby the system has no chance to adapt.' But it is not known how the signal works. Besides the Immunent signal, the 'clean' 50 Hz signal from the electrical socket was also used.
Both these signals did not bring out any effect on the production of cytokines from monocytes and macrophages. In addition, related genes appeared to express an 'immune' response to Immunent. However, it would be too presumptuous to state that we have nothing to fear from low frequency electromagnetic fields, says Bouwens. 'We are unable to prove that the production of signal substances is directly affected by using this technique in this way. But we have not examined the effects on other processes within the immune system.' Savelkoul: 'You can also look at it this way: this dirty signal does not show any evidence of negative effects right now.' It is not clear then why the signal does affect chicks and fishes.
Bouwens' research forms part of a national programme (ZonMW) which researches into the correlation between electromagnetic fields and health. Savelkoul's group studies the biological effects as well.