Special Issue: Electromagnetic fields in biology and medicine (Editorial)

Hinrikus H, Karpowicz J, Naarala J. Special Issue: Electromagnetic fields in biology and medicine. Int J Radiat Biol. 2018 Oct;94(10):873-876. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2018.1533359.

No abstract.


This Special Issue presents the papers reporting further development of ideas delivered and discussed in the special session ‘Electromagnetic fields in biology and medicine’ during the joint conference of the 7th European Medical and Biological Engineering Conference (EMBEC7) and the 17th Nordic-Baltic Conference on Biomedical Engineering and Medical Physics (NBC17), held in Tampere, Finland, June 2017. The focus on the state-of-the-art presentations on non-thermal mechanism(s) and biological responses to electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure has been underlined in the call for papers of the EMF special session. Three sub-sessions provided an international forum for presenting and discussing the latest developments in EMF biological and health effects as well as EMF applications in medicine….

Based on the results of scientific investigations, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified extremely low-frequency magnetic field as a possible human carcinogen in 2001 (IARC 2002 IARC. 2002. International Agency for Research on Cancer. 2002. Non-ionizing radiation, part 1: static and extremely low-frequency (ELF) electric and magnetic fields. Monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans, No 80. Geneva: WHO Press. [Google Scholar]) and radiofrequency EMF in 2011 (IARC 2013 IARC. 2013. International Agency for Research on Cancer. 2013. Non-ionizing radiation, part II: Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. Monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans, No 102. Geneva: WHO Press. [Google Scholar]). Recently, the US National Toxicology Program Carcinogenesis Studies of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Radiation has published the results indicating increased cancer risk in rats (NTP 2018 NTP. 2018. NTP Technical report on the toxicology and carcinogenesis studies in Hsd:Sprague Dawley SD rats exposed to whole-body radio frequency radiation at a frequency (900 MHz) and modulations (GSM and CDMA) used by cell phones. https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/about_ntp/trpanel/2018/march/tr595peerdraft.pdf [Google Scholar])….

… the findings reported in several studies in humans and animals (cellular stress, increase in free radicals, changes in DNA, functional changes in the reproductive system, alterations in the brain bioelectrical activity, learning and memory deficits etc.) at the levels of exposure below the thermal limits as well as several epidemiologic studies suggest the occurrence of EMF biological effects and the possibility of health effect at the levels of EMF exposure less than the set by the ICNIRP reference levels….

… the Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe in its Resolution 1815 from 2011 recommends ‘reconsider the scientific basis for the present electromagnetic fields exposure standards set by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection, which have serious limitations and apply “as low as reasonably achievable” (ALARA) principles, covering both thermal effects and the athermic or biological effects of electromagnetic emissions or radiation’ (Parliamentary Assembly 2011 Parliamentary Assembly. 2011. Council of Europe, Resolution 1815. The potential dangers of electromagnetic fields and their effect on the environment. http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-XML2HTML-en.asp?fileid=17994 [Google Scholar]). However, only few European countries and cities have followed the recommendation….

The main topics selected for the Special Issue cover some of important aspects of the area: physical and biological mechanisms of radiofrequency radiation effects by Hinrikus et al. and Herrala et al.; response to microwave radiation in physiological systems by Selmanoui et al. and Bachmann et al.; reproductive effects of intermediate frequency magnetic field by Khan et al.; low-frequency magnetic field effect on immune response by Wyszkowska et al. Special attention has been paid to medical applications of EMF including safety problems for implants in two papers by Zradzinski et al.; connectivity between surface and deep bioelectric fields in brain by Jäntti et al.; and practical use of EMF for toxicity assessment of biological suspensions by Muñoz et al….

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The ongoing discussions about 5G technology are based on a presumption that, due to very thin skin-layer, the EMF effect occurs only in human skin.
However, in the case of real living systems, the processes in different tissues are interconnected. Therefore, excited by EMF skin structures are physiologically connected to deeper systems in body and the affected space can be much deeper ….

Threshold of low-level EMF effects

All experimental studies published in the Special Issue have been performed at the EMF levels lower than the reference levels for general public set by the ICNIRP. An only exception is the SAR value of 6 W/kg used as the higher level of exposure in the study by Herrala et al.

The ICNIRP Guidelines are based on thermal interaction mechanism for the RF EMF effects. Therefore, the rise of temperature inside tissue is the only criterion for the possibility of an EMF effect. The specific absorption rate (SAR) is a relevant parameter to describe the intensity of exposure in the case of thermal mechanism. The SAR value, corresponding to the fixed level of induced by EMF increase of temperature, can be considered as the threshold of the EMF effect induced by the thermal interaction mechanism.

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In the case of non-thermal interaction mechanisms, the absorbed energy has no more direct linear relationship with the effect. Therefore, SAR becomes irrelevant as a parameter describing the threshold of the EMF effects. Parallel to SAR, the ICNIRP has set the reference levels for electric and magnetic fields strengths and EMF power spectral density, more relevant in the case of nom-thermal interaction mechanisms. Do the reference levels for EM field strengths set by ICNIRP determine the threshold of the non-thermal mechanism of EMF effects?

Rotations of dipolar molecules and radical pairs are known to be evident at the EMF strengths much less than the thermal threshold. The dielectric constant is assumed being constant, therefore, no threshold for dielectric polarization of a medium is expected at low-level exposure. The rotation of dipolar molecules can occur at very weak EMF. Radical pairs are known being sensitive to very weak magnetic fields, for example in birds. In the case of the rotation of dipolar molecules or radical pairs, the physical restrictions determining the minimal field strengths sufficient for the rotation are still unknown.

The threshold of the non-thermal mechanisms of EMF effects needs further theoretical and experimental investigations keeping in mind that the additional affecting factors can influence the threshold of low-level EMF. The oscillating nature of several biological structures, first of all, heart cells and neurons, makes possible parametric excitation of biological oscillations even by very weak periodic external EMF. The impact of parametric excitation depends not only on the strength of periodic force but rather more on the duration of excitation. Chaotic nature of biological systems creates a possibility that a very small initial change in a parameter of the system can cause remarkable alterations of the ongoing processes and finally results in a significant change in the status of the system. Due to diversity of living systems, the sensitivity to low-level EMF is expected to be different for individuals.

Special Issue Papers

Hinrikus H, Bachmann M, Lass J. Understanding physical mechanism of low-level microwave radiation effect. Int J Radiat Biol. 2018 Oct;94(10):877-882. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2018.1478158. Epub 2018 Jun 8.


Herrala M, Mustafa E, Naarala J, Juutilainen J. Assessment of genotoxicity and genomic instability in rat primary astrocytes exposed to 872 MHz radiofrequency radiation and chemicals. Int J Radiat Biol. 2018 Oct;94(10):883-889. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2018.1450534. Epub 2018 Mar 23.

Bachmann M, Päeske L, Ioannides AA, Lass J, Hinrikus H. After-effect induced by microwave radiation in human electroencephalographic signal: a feasibility study. Int J Radiat Biol. 2018 Oct;94(10):896-901. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2018.1478164. Epub 2018 Jun 20.

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Khan MW, Roivainen P, Herrala M, Tiikkaja M, Sallmén M, Hietanen M, Juutilainen J. A pilot study on the reproductive risks of maternal exposure to magnetic fields from electronic article surveillance systems. Int J Radiat Biol. 2018 Oct;94(10):902-908. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2018.1439197. Epub 2018 Feb 26. —

Wyszkowska J, Jędrzejewski T, Piotrowski J, Wojciechowska A, Stankiewicz M, Kozak W. Evaluation of the influence of in vivo exposure to extremely low-frequency magnetic fields on the plasma levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in rats. Int J Radiat Biol. 2018 Oct;94(10):909-917. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2018.1503428. Epub 2018 Sep 28.


Zradziński P. Evaluation of the inter-person variability of hazards to the users of BAHA hearing implants caused by exposure to a low frequency magnetic field.
Int J Radiat Biol. 2018 Oct;94(10):918-925. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2018.1454619. Epub 2018 Apr 4.


Zradziński P, Karpowicz J, Gryz K. In silico modelling of influence from low or intermediate frequency magnetic fields on users of wearable insulin pumps. Int J

Radiat Biol. 2018 Oct;94(10):926-933. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2017.1419305. Epub 2018 Jan 3.


Jäntti V, Ylinen T, Subramaniyam NP, Kamata K, Yli-Hankala A, Kauppinen P, Sonkajärvi E.Electroencephalographic signals during anesthesia recorded from surface and depth electrodes. Int J Radiat Biol. 2018 Oct;94(10):934-943. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2018.1478159. Epub 2018 Jun 22.


Muñoz S, Sebastián JL, Antoranz P, García-Cambero JP, Sanchis-Otero A.Toxicity assessment of biological suspensions using the dielectric impedance spectroscopy technique. Int J Radiat Biol. 2018 Oct;94(10):944-950. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2018.1439196. Epub 2018 Feb 21.


Abstracts for these papers are available at: