Does Mobile Phone Use Reduce Alzheimers Risk Biology Essay

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Figure 1 - This shows a healthy human brain in comparison to one with Alzheimer's disease (right). [3]Alzheimer's disease is one of the most common forms of dementia [1], and this is a syndrome that is linked to the continuous decline of the brain and its abilities. It is a physical disease of the brain, and this is mainly because as someone begins to suffer from Alzheimer's, their brain would have some plaque forming slowly, and it also begins to shrink in size. Recently, there has been research to show an association between Alzheimer's disease and mobile phone use. According to such research, the use of mobile phones can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's. The electromagnetic field (EMF) that is emitted by mobile phones may supposedly reduce the risk or slow down the effects of Alzheimer's.

Graph 1 - Number of Alzheimer's cases in the UK [12]This can be seen in the Figure 1, where there is an image of a healthy human brain, and then the brain of someone suffering from Alzheimer's disease on the right. Due to these plaques and tangles, it could lead to the death of brain cells, and this is the main reason why Alzheimer's patients have memory problems. It also triggers many other common symptoms which includes becoming confused and to frequently forget the names of people and places, experiencing mood swings and becoming more withdrawn, mainly due to either a loss of confidence or communication problems. [2] The number of Alzheimer's cases is said to dramatically increase over the next few decades, and because of this, there is an increasingly urgent need to find a treatment for the disease or at least something that would reduce its effects or slow down the process in which it damages the brain. [4]

Biological methods to produce data

Figure 2- Experiment showing the mice being exposed to an electromagnetic radiation.Some experiments have been carried out which shows a link between Alzheimer's disease and the use of mobile phones, which is rather unusual. After all the concern over the possible damage to health from using mobile phones, some scientists have found a potential benefit from radiation. [5] It suggests that the radiation emitted when using a mobile phone might protect against Alzheimer's. The experiment consisted of taking 46 mice which had been genetically altered to develop beta-amyloid plaques in their brains. These plaques are the markers of Alzheimer's disease as they aged. The rest of the 46 mice in the experiment were non-demented. [5] The mice were then exposed to the electro-magnetic field generated by a standard mobile phone for one-hour periods each day for 7-9 months. They had two subgroups - a control group that would not be exposed to EMF and a treatment group that would be exposed to high-frequency EMF. The cages were equally spaced out around a centrally located antenna which generated the phone signal. (Figure 2)

The mice were given memory tests when they were aged 5, 6 and 9 months. The basic memory test they had to do was based on a 'radial arm water maze' test. This test would assess the mice's ability to remember how to get out of a water tank using an underwater escape platform. From this investigation, the scientists had found that the genetically modified mice that were exposed to the electromagnetic field from a young age showed to have better memory than those that did not have this exposure.[6] The data below confirms this finding.

Figure 3- Bar chart showing 3 different trials of the Radial Arm Water Maze experiment. [20]From this graph, we can see that the dependent variable is the number of 'errors' made by the mice in each test. Therefore, it is assumed that the fewer the number of errors made by the mice, the better the mental (especially memory) function.

NT = Non-transgenic mice (Mice that were not genetically modified and do not have Alzheimer's)

NT/EMF = Non-transgenic mice that have been exposed to EMF.

Tg = Transgenic mice (Mice that had been genetically modified and have Alzheimer's)

Tg/EMF = Transgenic mice that have been exposed to EMF

We can see from Trial 1 that the non-transgenic mice had improved its memory when exposed to EMF as the amount of errors made decreased from a mean of 3.4 to 2, whereas the memory of the transgenic mice had worsened as the number of errors increased from 3.8 to 4.5. This latter result goes against the hypothesis as the exposure to EMF causes an increase in the number of errors in this case.

But this changes as in trials 4 and 5, the non transgenic mice makes more errors after being exposed to EMF, however the transgenic mice which are the ones with Alzheimer's makes less errors after the EMF exposure which supports the hypothesis. This is shown in the graph as in trial 4, the mean number of errors made by the transgenic mice decreases from 2.3 to 2.1, and for trial 5 it decreases from 2 to 1.8. This data shows that there is an improvement (although slight) to the memory of the mice which had Alzheimer's and were exposed to EMF.

We don't recommend spending 24 hours a day on a mobile phone - we don't know the long-term effects, and bills could go through the roof[7]

So as this experiment was only carried out for 7-9 months, this is not enough to prove that the cure for Alzheimer's is just to increase your mobile phone use, as this could have other long term effects which could lead to other worse diseases.

Another breakthrough was the brain pathology was assessed in genetically modified mice that had been exposed to EMF after they were five months old. They had found that the amyloid beta protein had changed from the exposure to the electromagnetic field and became more soluble and less collective in their brains. This is a possible explanation behind the improved memory of the transgenic mice after being exposed to EMF in the 'Radial Arm Water Maze' experiment.

Possible Solution

Figure 3 - Image showing the main parts of the human head that are affected by the radiation from mobile phone use. [11]So from this, the researchers suggested that long term exposure of EMF could be used to protect against or even reverse the effects of cognitive impairment and amyloid beta neuropathology in Alzheimer's. [6] So this could be done by taking people that are in their early stages of the Alzheimer's disease and exposing them to electromagnetic fields to change the state of the amyloid beta plaque in their brain, making is become less dangerous and protect the patient from the deterioration in physical health of their brain.

But the researchers themselves highlight the fact that the genetically modified mice they used do not recapitulate all aspects of Alzheimer's disease in humans, such as the accompanying death of nerve cells. [10] This shows that it does not necessarily need to be the same for humans, as mice are totally different organisms and we do not know how strong the electromagnetic fields needs to be if exposing it to a human being, and its potential risks. They also say that the mice were exposed to full-body EMF and that this may have different effects and would be of a different dose to the more localised exposure that a mobile phone user experiences. [9]

I have also found out that the usual mobile phone radiation affects the user mainly on the side of their head and does not really affect the brain. This could show that the electromagnetic field itself, when is exposed to a human could help to protect them from Alzheimer's disease, but the radiation from mobile phones is too little to actually make a change. Therefore, although it is an interesting finding that EMF may affect amyloid beta aggregation, this study does not provide sufficient evidence using a mobile phone would benefit those suffering from Alzheimer's disease, so more experiments are needed to be carried out, mainly ones with Alzheimer's patients.

Evaluation of benefits and risks

Ethical implication- The most obvious ethical implication with regard to the experiment or technique is the use of animal testing. Most of the mice in the experiments were induced with Alzheimer's which would be considered to be unethical as they were deliberately harmed as part of the experiment. They had been genetically altered to develop beta-amyloid plaques in their brains, and this could prevent them from living for as long as they usually can.

However, the use of human models for testing is not feasible and it could mean that mice testing is the best next alternative which has been used for decades and is also relatively cheap. But another ethical concern would be the fact that a human would be exposed to high amounts of this electromagnetic radiation to try and slow the effects of Alzheimer's. But the problem is that they may be in risk of getting other diseases as we do not really know the side effects of this long term exposure to EMF.

Social implication- If the positive results found through animal testing can be applied to humans, this would be useful to those sufferers of Alzheimer's. If this technique for reducing the effects of Alzheimer's becomes widely accepted, it can help relieve a lot of stress to families and the people that suffer from the disease. It would help them lead a more normal life with better communication and memory.

Therefore the EMF from mobile phone use could be beneficial to Alzheimer's sufferers and it can help them to reduce its effects and improve their memory. However, such usage should be in moderation for there are risks associated with excess mobile phone radiation. (As discussed later)

Risks (Excessive mobile use)

Figure 5 - Image showing the main parts of the human head that are affected by the radiation from mobile phone use. [17]However, even though the radiation from a mobile phone can only help protect an individual from getting Alzheimer's disease, it could also be the cause of various other diseases or cancer. A scientist claims that children should not really use mobile phones, as by using it for over 10 years could increase the risk of getting brain cancer. [13] This is slightly worrying as the article which links Alzheimer's with mobile phones had shown evidence that it can help the brain and strengthen your memory, whereas this study shows that it can increase the risk of a child getting brain cancer as they become older.

But it doesn't stop here; there is a new study which shows a link between poor sperm and the number of hours a day that a man uses his mobile phone. [14] The ones who had made calls which lasted longer than 4 hours a day had the worst sperm counts and they were of the poorest quality, this was according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine annual meeting. The doctors claimed that the results were due to the electromagnetic radiation that had been released by the handset. This would totally go against the solution found for Alzheimer's disease by exposing people to electromagnetic radiation, as this may have many side effects such as brain cancer and infertility. But according to Cancer Research UK, there is currently no firm evidence to show that using a mobile phone will increase your risk of developing a brain tumour or any other type of cancer. [16]

Alternative solutions

Cholinesterase Inhibitors These are one of the main drugs that are prescribed for Alzheimer's disease in the UK. They are not the cure for Alzheimer's as this is yet to be found, but they can slow down the effects of the illness, for example, memory loss and anxiety. [15] But this medication does not work for all patients as only some will improve, but the rest will continue to deteriorate. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has taken the decision that these drugs will only be available to people that are in the moderate stages of the illness and that they cannot be prescribed in it's early stages, many people are very unhappy about this decision. These drugs help by producing more of the chemical Acetylcholine, which helps pass messages between the brain cells that involved in memory. (These chemicals are very much reduced when a person develops Alzheimer's). Cholinesterase inhibitors help reduce the breakdown of acetylcholine, and increase its levels in the brain which can help reduce some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Vitamin E

Figure 6- Vitamin E pills [18]Vitamin E can be found in many foods such as oils from sunflower seeds, corn, fish-liver oils and also nuts. They are natural substances and some studies have shown that by taking some this vitamin every day, it can slow down the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Highly reactive species known as free radicals cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress leads to plaque formation in the brain and therefore cause Alzheimer's disease. But antioxidants such as Vitamin E neutralises these free radicals and counteract the damage they cause.[19] As with all the treatments, they also have some side effects if not taken with caution. This is mainly because it can have an effect on blood clotting so people with clotting disorders should be very aware of how much they take, as doses of over 400 units a day is said to do more harm than good. [18] Even though most people can take Vitamin E without having any side effects, some people may experience nausea, fatigue, bruising or even diarrhoea. However, by having a diet that is rich in natural Vitamin E can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.