The Reflex-Study (Vienna Part)

The part of the REFLEX study which was conducted in Vienna was publicly accused of being fraudulent which let to investigations by the Medical University of Vienna where the study was conducted. As a result, part oft he study was retratced for obvious de-blinding. In a scientific workshop organised by both the FMK and the German FGF (Forschungsgemeinschaft Funk) on 'Mobile Telecommunications and genetic make-up' in 2008, experts provided their insights into the REFLEX study and other relevant scientific studies. This article summarizes the contents oft he workshop:

Do mobile phones damage the genetic make-up?

Four international, top-level speakers answered this question at an information event run by the Forschungsgemeinschaft Funk e.V. (FGF – Radio Research Association) and the Forum Mobilkommunikation (FMK – Forum for Mobile Communication) on 17.9.2008 in Vienna.  The event provided both an overview of the current state of scientific knowledge in this field and also discussed the recent controversies surrounding the apparently manipulated studies at the Medical University of Vienna. The experts were all agreed that higher and more verifiable quality criteria are required to ensure good scientific practice.

Genotoxicity, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Kiefer, formerly of Giessen University, Germany
The renowned physicist provided an insight into the complex world of genotoxicity. “Genotoxic changes in DNA also occur in untreated cells – as a result of physiological and biochemical processes, and this limits the sensitivity of any test procedure,” according to Kiefer. This means that a few tests, easily available experimentally, are not sufficient to supply clear proof of genotoxic effects, but that it is necessary to demonstrate a cohesive action profile.

The effects of high-frequency electromagnetic fields on the human genotype – an overview; Prof. Dr. Günter Obe, formerly of Duisburg-Essen University, Germany
The cytogenetics specialist, Prof. Dr. Obe, also pointed out the difficulty of evaluating studies on mobile telephones, explaining that precise examination of the experimental parameters and awareness of the mechanisms leading to damage of the chromosomal DNA are required. With respect to the concrete research scenario, he had the following to say: “Analyses of the effects of high-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) in damaging the genetic make-up and causing cancer are primarily negative. Positive findings are often unconvincing and tend rather to suggest defects in the implementation of the experiments involved”. He told the audience that this can be explained by a positive correlation between mutagenic and carcinogenic effects: “If high-frequency electromagnetic fields (note: as in mobile phones) were mutagenic, they should thus also be carcinogenic. Studies on mice and rats, and epidemiological studies in humans are however largely negative. So it is not possible to derive any mutagenic effect on the part of high-frequency electromagnetic fields from these analyses either,” according to Obe.

The reproducibility of genotoxic effects caused by high-frequency EMF found in the REFLEX Project, Prof. Dr. Günter Speit, Ulm University, Germany
Human genetics specialist Dr. Speit presented the independent repeat studies regarding the results obtained on cell cultures within the framework of the EU REFLEX Project. Several experiments were carried out in his laboratory in collaboration with colleagues of Prof. Rüdiger (Vienna). “In none of the experiments was there any indication of a genotoxic effect caused by high-frequency electromagnetic fields,” said Speit. Furthermore, the possibility of a malfunction in the exposure unit and differences in implementation of the experiments was also ruled out.

Scientific methodology and communication, Prof. Dr. Alexander Lerchl, Jacobs University Bremen, Germany
Prof. Alexander Lerchl, biologist and current member of the German radiation protection authority, reported on selected studies from the REFLEX Project, scientific methodology and the communication of this. Lerchl is the scientist who informed the publishers of the scientific journals of the suspected falsification in connection with studies from the REFLEX Project carried out at the Medical University of Vienna and their results regarding DNA strand breakages. Lerchl explained that one of the frequent errors made with data manipulation is the fact that the invented values are less widely distributed than in genuine experiments and discussed the methods of detection and the consequences of these in some detail. “A total of 8 publications from the Medical University of Vienna, written in the context of the REFLEX program sponsored by the EU, are subject to concrete suspicions of falsification”, concluded Lerchl.

The REFLEX Project is a research project sponsored by the EU as part of the 5th Framework Programme, in which 12 research groups from 7 European countries took part. The aim was to study various types of living cells in laboratory experiments to discover whether the prerequisites are met for health damage at cellular or molecular level caused by low- and high-frequency fields. Several research teams in the REFLEX group were unable to find any effects of low-frequency electrical and magnetic fields and of high-frequency electromagnetic fields on cell growth, cell differentiation or programmed cell death (apoptosis). The results with respect to gene expression, in other words the transformation of genetic information into functional gene products, usually proteins, were varied and complex, but no evidence is available as to the extent to which these results are repeatable and of biological relevance.


Link to the Wikipedia entry about Reflex (german):