The University of Newcastle, Australia

Effects of Wi-fi on Human Cells

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Faculty research examines the impact of low-frequency radio waves on human cells.

In an article published in the Newcastle Herald in July 2019, Dr Geoff De Iuliis, Senior Lecturer, School of Environmental and Life Sciences (Reproductive Medicine) talks about his research into the potential effects of wi-fi and mobile technologies on human cells.

Dr Geoffry De Iuliis
Dr Geoffry De Iuliis

Dr De Iuliis talked to the Newcastle Herald about his research loooking at the potential impact of low-frequency radio waves, ubiquitously used in modern communications technology including wifi and mobile phones, on human cells.

He revealed that his project uses human sperm cells to look for potential impacts because human sperm cells are particularly sensitive to a broad range of environmental impacts and so make a good instrument to study any impact.  Mobile phones are exposing people to low-level electromagnetic energy in ways that are "unprecedented in human history". says University of Newcastle senior lecturer Geoffry De Iuliis, who is researching the effects of this energy on sperm.

"I'm sure many people have thought or worried about the potential constant exposure from mobile use at some point," Dr De Iuliis said.  "There is a need to get to the bottom of this."  He said the penetration of mobile technologies into many aspects of our lives had provided "huge advances for society".

"However, there is still public concern about the potential health impacts of using mobile devices.

"A large part of the concern I think stems from the fact that we are now using our devices for calls or internet access for large chunks of our days and lives."


Dr De Iuliis is leading a $425,000 research project, funded this year by the National Health and Medical Research Council.  The project aims to determine the biological effects on sperm of radio frequency electromagnetic energy emitted from mobile phones.

A description of the project states that "mobile phones have become an integral part of our lives"."They rely on radiofrequency electromagnetic energy to communicate information.  "Despite the ever-growing exposure of our population to this form of energy, the potential effects on biological systems have not been resolved."These potential effects were "currently under active debate".

"For this project, we are exposing sperm cells to various electromagnetic energy profiles that simulates our environmental exposures from mobile devices," Dr De Iuliis said.  "We then look to see if there are any visible or chemical changes in the cells, as a result of the exposures.  "The equipment we use for these studies has been custom designed and built via a collaboration between the University of Newcastle and University of NSW."  Exposure of sperm to electromagnetic energy has been shown to have negative effects.

"Our previous work and indeed the work currently being completed in our lab does show that exaggerated exposures can visibly affect sperm cells," he said.  This exposure can cause a decline in the movement of sperm and damage to their DNA. "One of the things this has highlighted for us, is that the sperm cells are very sensitive to electromagnetic energy, as well as being a very convenient cell type to use for this research. "Therefore, we think we have the perfect model to study the effects of electromagnetic energy on biology more deeply."

He said the main goal was to "work towards identifying a mechanism of action and to inform a potential risk to male fertility"."We have approximated the exposures that reflect the levels a person may receive and are following some strong leads from that work."But there is still a lot of research to be done before we can confirm any cause for concern."  More recently, the research has found that "finely-tuned chemical balances within the sperm cells can be disturbed by the applied electromagnetic fields".

"We have gained more evidence that the sperm cell damage we observe is caused by molecules called 'reactive oxygen species'."This typically causes a cell to enter a state of "oxidative stress"."We are now trying to work out how the electromagnetic energy exposures produce these molecules inside sperm," he said.  He said sperm cells were "a very unique cell type" and the "smallest human cell".

Their unique properties mean they become particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress that is induced by radiofrequency electromagnetic energy.  "Other cell types in the body are usually more tolerable to this stress."  He said it would be interesting to see in future studies "if we can also detect similar changes in other cell types due to electromagnetic energy".  As for where males should store their mobile phone, he said it "can't hurt to try and keep the device away" from testicles, "especially if you are trying for a baby".

"We hope that the research we are doing in this space will allow us to offer some recommendations down the track."

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