Assessment of Genotoxicity in Human Cells Exposed to Modulated Electromagnetic Fields of Wireless Communication Devices

David Schuermann, Christina Ziemann, Zeinab Barekati, Myles Capstick, Antje Oertel, Frauke Focke, Manuel Murbach, Niels Kuster, Clemens Dasenbrock, and Primo Schär, Genes 2020, Volume 11, Issue 4, 347, online 25 March 2020; doi: 10.3390/genes11040347

In this paper, the outcomes of a comprehensive multi-center study performed by the Department of Biomedicine of the University of Basel, the Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine in Hannover, and the IT'IS Foundation are summarized. The objectives of the study, which spanned more than 10 years, were defined by the EU FP7 SEAWIND project (No 244149) to assess the impact of technologically relevant modulated wireless electromagnetic fields (wEMF) on the integrity of the genomes of cultured human cells, with a focus on cell-type-specificities as well as on time- and dose-dependencies. Classical and advanced methodologies of genetic toxicology and DNA repair were applied and key experiments were performed in two separate laboratories. Overall, no conclusive evidence was found for either induction of DNA damage or for alterations of the DNA repair capacity in cells exposed to wEMF in sXc1950 exposure systems, in which exposures to several communication technologies, including GSM, UMTS, WiFi, and RFID, were simulated. Previously reported observations of increased DNA damage resulting from exposure of cells to GSM-modulated signals could not be reproduced. Experimental variables that presumably underlie the discrepant observations were investigated and are discussed. On the basis of the data presented, it is concluded that the possible carcinogenicity of wEMF modulations cannot be explained by an effect on genome integrity through direct DNA damage. However, non-genotoxic, indirect, or secondary effects of wEMF exposure that may promote tumorigenesis in other ways cannot be excluded on the basis of the findings.

The scientific and technical impact of the study can be summarized as:
  • No conclusive evidence was found for disturbance of DNA integrity or changes in the DNA repair capacity in cultured human cells upon exposure to wEMFs, contrary to previously reported findings
  • Cell culture conditions and comet assay methodology were identified as likely relevant variables, e.g., in some experiments with UMTS exposures, small changes in DNA damage levels and repair dynamics were observed
  • The variability in the responses is interpreted as being possible evidence for a nonspecific wEMF‐induced cellular stress response, however, the underlying mechanism of such an interaction between wEMF and cellular physiology needs further investigation