Electromagnetic fields (EMF)

2003 WHO research agenda for radio frequency fields

Laboratory studies: Animals

Overarching issues:

  • Animal studies should, where possible, be conducted using commercially relevant RF signals, and not be scaled in frequency.
  • Animal model systems with the potential for clear responses to RF exposures should be used in initial studies of new signals (including Ultra Wide Band: UWB). Likewise, such experimental systems should be used to investigate the ability of RF exposures to have synergistic effects with agents of known biological activity.
  • Where practical, animal studies should be designed to include information on the potential impact of animal age on RF responses (i.e. comparing juvenile to adult).
  • The potential role of the dose pattern (regimen including intermittency, duration) should be considered in experimental design


  • Two large-scale rodent bioassay studies that use the general approach of the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. NIEHS including one from the U.S. NIEHS. The amount of time per day that the animals are RF-exposed should be as high as experimental considerations allow.
  • Follow-up studies using models relevant to human endpoints (i.e., Pim1, DMBA, ENU).
  • Follow-up studies of behaviour (e.g., maze performance).
  • Studies to test the reproducibility of reported changes in effects on the inner ear and cochlea, neurodegenerative diseases, thermal response, and cognitive function.
  • Studies of the effect of tissue age (aged versus young) and tissue mortality (alive versus dead) on the dielectric constants to support the design and analysis of animal and human studies.

Short-term or urgent needs:

  • Follow-up studies to immune system studies that suggest an effect of RF exposure (i.e., Russian publications from several years ago).
  • Studies to assess the accuracy and reproducibility of published RF effects on the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and other neuropathologies (e.g., dura mater inflammation, dark neurones).
  • Additional studies of the effect of RF exposure on sleep are recommended.
  • More quantitative studies on the effects of heat on the development of the central nervous system, particularly the cortex, in the embryo and fetus using morphological and functional endpoints.

Long-term or future needs:

  • In cases where the results of cellular, biophysical, of theoretical studies suggest that a new type of RF signal may have a specific biological activity, this new signal should first be studied in large scale rodent bioassays or other animal models relevant to human endpoints similar to the studies described above.
  • Further studies should be undertaken to determine the effects prolonged and/or chronic localised heating at temperatures of less than 41oC. Emphasis should be placed on the quantitative assessment of histological damage and functional change as well as grossly detectable injury.