Scientists in Britain today asked 2.4 million cell phone users to participate in the world's largest study of the health effects of mobile phone use. The researchers hope that 250,000 people will eventually agree to participate in the COSMOS study, which will also have arms in Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands. The U.K. portion will receive $4.8 million for the first 5 years from the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, which is funded by the U.K. government and the telecommunications industry.
Study participants will agree to allow researchers to track their mobile phone use over the next 20 to 30 years and to access their health records to look for correlations between cell phone use and health effects. Participants will also fill out regular surveys covering their use of cordless phones and other wireless devices as well as diet and exercise.
Previous studies of cell phone use have been reassuring, says Mireille Toledano, an epidemiologist at ImperialCollegeLondon and a member of the study team. "But there are questions with longer-term use," she says. "Most of us have not been using [cell phones] longer than 10 years, so we just don't have the data." Many of the diseases the study will track take decades to develop, she says. The researchers will look for possible connections to a range of cancers and neurodegenerative diseases as well as milder symptoms such as headaches, tinnitus, and insomnia. It will be the first large-scale study of cell phone use that starts tracking people before they are ill, she says, "So we can tell whether phone use truly preceded development of disease." Most previous studies asked patients already diagnosed with a disease, such as brain cancer, to recall past cell phone use—a less reliable method.