MIT: Chemical energy influences tiny vibrations of red blood cell membraneshttp://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-12/miot-mce122109.php
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Much like a tightly wound drum, red blood cells are in perpetual vibration.
Those vibrations help the cells maintain their characteristic flattened oval or disc shape, which is critical to their ability to deform as they traverse blood vessels in the body to deliver oxygen to tissues.
Blood disorders such as malaria, sickle cell anemia and spherocytosis interfere with those vibrations, so a better understanding of the vibrations could help researchers develop treatments for those diseases. However, the vibrations are nearly impossible to study because their amplitude is so tiny (nanometer, or billionth of a meter, scale), and they occur in just milliseconds.
A year ago, a team led by MIT Dean of Engineering Subra Suresh and Physics Professor Michael Feld, director of MIT's George R. Harrison Spectroscopy Laboratory, reported the first whole-cell glimpse of these membrane fluctuations. Now, in a paper appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of Dec. 21, they present conclusive evidence that the vibrations require energy input from ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a chemical cells use to store and transfer energy.
Previous studies examining only select locations on the cell have led to mutually contradictory results on the role of ATP in influencing cell membrane fluctuations. The MIT team used advanced spectroscopy techniques to examine the entire membrane, and found that ATP is indeed not only critical for the vibrations but it also determines the shape of the cell.
They discovered that ATP controls binding between the fatty cell membrane and the interior cellular structure, known as the spectrin network, which is necessary for the membrane vibrations to occur.
How they did it: The researchers used diffraction phase microscopy, which quantitatively measures the vibrations in the cell membrane in real time. The optical phase delay, a measure of how much the light is delayed as it passes through the cell, changes as the membrane vibrates. They found that when ATP was depleted in red blood cells, vibrations decreased by 20 percent. When ATP was reintroduced, vibrations increase back to the normal level. They also found a direct correlation between the ATP-induced alteration to membrane vibrations and the length scale of the cytoskeletal structure.
This raises the possibility of developing novel diagnostics and therapeutics for blood cell disorders by determining and modulating cell activity through ATP, says Suresh.
Next steps: The researchers are studying how specific proteins associated with malaria infection of red blood cells affect cell membrane stiffness and vibration, and developing sensitive new diagnostic techniques.
Source: "Metabolic remodeling of the human red blood cell membrane," YongKeun Park, Catherine Best, Thorsten Auth, Nir Gov, Samuel Safran, Gabriel Popescu, Subra Suresh and Michael Feld, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, week of Dec. 21, 2009.
Funding: National Institutes of Health, Minerva Foundation, Binational Science Foundation, Imaging Science Foundation, Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology and the National Science Foundation.
'Mobile-boro Man' - Is his second addiction a cancer-cell phone?
Updated: 2009-12-25 07:26
It's time to party, it's Saturday night, it's Hong Kong. Mobile phone in one hand, cigarette in the other, the "Mobile-boro Man" - the mobile phone-cigarette-addicted urban counterpart of the iconic American macho-cowboy, tobacco-hawking "Marlboro Man" - struts, strides or shuffles down Nathan Road's gallery of glitz. Chatting and puffing his way through his own smog of smoke and electromagnetic radiation ("electro-smog") he is blissfully unmindful of the dangers of both. Head in his two clouds, he is clueless or in denial, for he is in the one hand, in grave danger of developing lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, etc., and in the other hand, quite possibly at risk of developing other lethal diseases, such as brain or eye cancer, or, if he is luckier, one or more other serious health problems.
He's not the only one in double-danger: women who smoke and use cell phones face, as we shall see, a similar deadly double-whammy, especially if, like so many mobile phone users and smokers, they start young.
According to very recent research reported by eminent Canadian researcher Magda Havas, PhD, (Associate Professor in Environmental & Resource Studies, Trent University; co-author with Camilla Rees of Public Health SOS: The Shadow Side Of The Wireless Revolution; former science adviser to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; and former member of the Board of Governors, Trent University, Ontario, Canada), heavy cell-phone users who start using mobile phones before they are 20 and for 10 years are 420 percent more likely than non-users to develop an incurable "ipsilateral (same-side) glioma" - a brain tumor that often is malignant, growing on the same side as the ear used for the phone calls.
A key January 2009 peer-reviewed Swedish scientific study, focusing on such tumors and published in the journal Pathophysiology, offered this conclusion: "We conclude that (the) current standard for exposure to microwaves during mobile phone use is not safe for long-term exposure and needs to be revised." (Italics mine.)
In the United States, the following big cell phone news story has just gone viral: Maine state legislator Andrea Boland, noting that numerous studies point to a cell phone cancer risk, will be introducing a bill in the January 2010 legislative session (a session usually reserved for emergencies and governor's bills) requiring mandatory radiation-related cancer warning labels on phones and packaging - warnings just like those mandated for cigarette packs. The warnings would recommend that users, especially children and pregnant women, keep the devices away from their heads and bodies. A mandatory radiation-level labeling law is being considered in San Francisco, where Mayor Gavin Newsom wants his city to be the nation's first to require the warnings. The United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Israel, Russia and India are also advising that children limit their use of cell phones. In Russia, it's recommended children under 18 not use cell phones at all.
But wait! You keep hearing and reading that cell phones are safe, or that the evidence is inconclusive. China Daily interviews with local Hong Kong researchers, professors and other experts elicited several comments supporting these kinds of claims: The first, fromDr Chiu Kwok Wing (Consultant in Clinical Oncology), Hong Kong Baptist Hospital: "No direct evidence has shown that electromagnetic radiation is linked to cancer," said Dr Chiu, contradicting the aforementioned recent 2009 Swedish study - and another 2009 Australian National University study (with some of the same Swedish researchers) - that presented this conclusion: "The authors conclude that there is adequate epidemiologic evidence to suggest a link between prolonged cell phone usage and the development of an ipsilateral brain tumor." (Italics mine.)
Dr Chiu did allow for one clear risk: "...according to some surveys, people living near mobile phone base stations do have higher risks of developing leukemia and brain tumors."
Next, comments from Dr Raymond Cheung, Professor in Neuroscience, University of Hong Kong, also interviewed by China Daily: "Epidemiological research has not found enough evidence to prove cell phone radiation could cause brain tumors. But research has already proved that radiation emitted by cell phones has the potential to heat up human tissues like the head or ear." - as my cheap 1990's "safe" Japanese mobile phone did, while it was scrambling my TV image into jagged chain-lightning.
In response to Dr Cheung, Professor Havas said University of Western Washington research has demonstrated that a causal connection between low-level cell-phone microwaves and altered DNA in rats has been proven, adding that such damage is a common precursor to cancer. In addition, strong correlations between cell phone use and tumors, of the kind in the Swedish and Australian studies, can be just as scary as proven cause-effect connections.
However, speaking of that very precious, ultra-sensitive group, children, Dr. Cheung cautioned, "If cell phone radiation is proved to be blamed for brain tumors, children and pregnant women are the high-risk group. Kids could receive more radiation, as they have thinner skulls than adults. The fetus could also be affected."
Professor Havas, who has said that "wireless technology is the tobacco of the 21st century", could not agree more. She says that children with their thin skulls will be susceptible to deeper brain penetration of their young brains by microwave radiation (see illustration, originally by Dr O.P. Gandhi, University of Utah) - a horrifying prospect, if the cell phone turns out to be a "cancer-cell phone", because they will be far likelier to develop tumors deep in the middle of their brains - tumors that are the most inoperable because of their location. She also warns that because children will have longer lifetime exposure to mobile phone radiation, because their immune systems are weaker, because their cells reproduce more quickly than adults and because their young brains absorb more energy (in part because of their thinner skulls) they (and pregnant women) face the gravest risks of all groups.
She also faults studies, often mobile phone company-sponsored, claiming there is no evidence of a link, on many grounds, chief among them being that the criteria used to define "cell phone user" are too liberal, e.g., accepting merely using a mobile phone once a week as sufficient to satisfy the definition. Moreover, the studies, she says, are in general not sufficiently long-term to establish microwave-tumor correlations/causation. It normally takes 20 to 30 years for brain tumors to develop in adults, yet they are being detected after 10 years of cell phone use. This is disturbing news.
In the face of the evidence she accepts, her advice and advice of other experts includes the following: Obviously, minimize the amount of time you use either your cell phone or home cordless phone (since the latter also emits powerful microwaves!); avoid carrying a switched-on phone anywhere on your body; avoid using the phone in moving vehicles, aircraft, etc., since the phone will boost its energy output to maintain roaming contact; the Office of the Telecommunications Authority of Hong Kong advises "avoiding contact with antennas when the phones are operating and making greater use of mobile phones with a hands-free kit. In addition, consumers may also wish to avoid using mobile phones in areas of poor reception as a mobile phone usually transmits stronger signal in these areas."
Even Blackberry urges users to keep the unit 0.98 inches from an ear and to never carry it on the body (source: Havas). Use text messaging instead of audio calls, since it involves less energy and the phone is not near your head. Of extreme importance is to ALWAYS use the loudspeaker function during a call, holding the unit as far from your ear as possible (which is what I always do, the rare times I must use my cell or cordless phones). Likewise, do not sleep with the cell phone on anywhere near your body, especially not under your pillow.
Will the Mobile-boro Man (and Woman) wake up and listen to this? Strangely, even though not one smoker I've asked would play Russian roulette even once, millions will smoke long enough for 650 million of the 1.3 billion smokers worldwide to die prematurely (World Health Organization recent estimate). Male smokers whom I asked whether they would ever try Russian roulette even just once for as much money as they might demand all said they would refuse the offer - now, and even when elderly. Yet, in a hideous irony of illogic, they gladly pay thousands of dollars over a lifetime for the higher risk of lung cancer! - a 17.2 percent lifetime risk of lung cancer for smoking males (11.4 percent for women) vs. a 16.7 percent risk in one "round" of Russian roulette for everybody!
Why haven't tobacco corporations and governments prevented this health catastrophe? Well, just as modern mobile phone companies are inclined to deny, minimize or doubt any causal connection between their services and serious illness, the tobacco companies, including those that admit the health risks, conduct business as usual. The 1950s-style advertising featuring unctuous, avuncular white-smocked, white-haired "physicians" smilingly assuring us that smoking is not only fun, but also safe, has long been banned - but not the cigarettes themselves.
Bottom line: the reason both Mobile-boro Man and Marlboro Man dangers persist is (besides whatever instances of sincere doubt may exist) money, and lots of it, made, taxed and spent to keep making it and taxing it.
So, our kiosks, tobacco shops, supermarkets and other stores always have huge inventories of cigarettes - just like our ubiquitous mobile phone shops that not only never run out, but also are always adding new "improved" phone models (cf. "new improved slim cigarettes") for the estimated 4.1 billion mobile users worldwide, 720 million of them in China.
What the shop staff are unlikely to tell you, probably because most haven't thought about it, is that, apparently, the more sophisticated and advanced the mobile phone unit is, the greater its EMF radiation emissions are likely to be. One Hong Kong retail shop owner who spoke with China Daily, but who declined to be named, said, "As the cell phone functions increase, the radiation inevitably grows. Today every cell phone has large screens, wi-fi, and other functions that could emit more radiation. If you want to buy something healthier, just try those old models with a single function. Nokia will be a good choice and the price is only from HK$300 to HK$400. Not many cell phone sellers are concerned about those low-radiation products, as few customers ask for that." The irony is that, with some exceptions, the cheaper the phone (like my HK$300 unit), the safer it is likely to be.
If you think you can protect yourself with conventional cell phone ear-pieces, think again: according to numerous reports, including those to be found at the reportedly number-1 natural-health website, www.mercola.com, the insulated wires in these ear-pieces actually serve as a microwave antenna, and merely redirect, channel and concentrate cell phone microwave radiation into and in your ears and brain. What is now widely recommended is an air-tube ear-piece that conducts the mobile phone's sound through air to your ears, totally radiation-free.
Likewise, if you imagine you'll protect your health by carrying your cell phone on your belt, you will again be disappointed. In a 2009 study, Professor Ashok Agarwal, director of the Reproductive Research Center at the internationally renowned Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, reported, "Use of cell phones decreases the semen quality in men by decreasing the sperm count, motility, viability, and normal morphology [shape]. The decrease in sperm parameters was dependent on the duration of daily exposure to cell phones and independent of the initial semen quality." He speculated that in additional to radiation, heat from cell phones worn on a belt may be damaging sperm.
If you are a woman, Professor Havas cautions, you should note that individual female eggs are around much longer than individual male sperm, which means they will be exposed to radiation longer. Otherwise, just Google "cell phones AND radiation AND pregnancy" and start to wade through the 2,050,000 website results to find out.
"Ah," you think, "if I don't feel any heat, I'll be fine." So, if your head, chest, abdomen or phone-ear don't feel hot there's no problem? Tell that to the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings or to the victims of Chernobyl. Many of these never experienced any direct thermal blast, but eventually died from radiation poisoning.
If you still remain unconvinced, just Google "cell phone", "mobile phone" and the name of any physical condition that terrifies you and start reading. Better yet, go to www.magdahavas.com.
What is the only search that will generate zero returns?
Until tomorrow, that is.
Michael Moffa, China Daily editor and critical thinking/philosophy university lecturer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(HK Edition 12/25/2009 page4)