Vodafone to help fund cancer study

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THE UK'S biggest mobile phone operator has agreed to help to fund a study that will examine whether mobile phone use is linked to cancer.

Although Vodafone has not committed a specific amount, it has agreed in principle to the request from the World Health Organisation, which is carrying out the study.

The full cost of the project will run into millions of pounds and the WHO has written to UK mobile operators such as Vodafone and Cellnet, asking them to help fund the study.

According to the WHO, the survey, which will span ten countries and involve interviewing thousands of people, will last up to three years and cost at least $6m.

The European Commission has agreed to provide half of that amount, provided the mobile phone industry supplies the rest. The survey will be the first comprehensive attempt to examine the health risks posed by mobile phones. A Vodafone spokesman confirmed yesterday that it had agreed in principle to the project.

Ericsson, the Swedish company that is a major supplier of mobile phones, is also expected to help fund the programme.

"So far we have not found any reason to believe there are adverse health effects," Sven-Christer Nilsson, Ericsson's chief executive, said recently, though he added that he took the issue "very seriously".

There is growing concern about the effects that mobile phones have on their users' health. Recently Richard Branson asked staff at his Virgin Group to fit protective earpieces to their mobile phones after a close friend of his, who was a heavy user of the devices, died of a brain tumour.

However, no comprehensive research into the link between the two has ever been carried out.

"There has been a lot of research into the effects of exposing the whole body to radio waves," said Michael Repacholi, who is co-ordinating the study for the WHO.

"But we want a specific study into the effects of exposing the head to close-up radiation."

If the study goes ahead, the WHO will start by selecting thousands of cancer sufferers and interviewing them about how much they use their mobile phones. It will then compare the results with a group of people who don't use mobile phones to see whether they are less likely to suffer from cancer.

Dr Repacholi stressed that the mobile phone companies would not be able to influence the study.

"We will make sure there is a firewall there," he said. "And the contract says the industry can have no input before the results must be published in a recognised academic journal."

The WHO survey has won the support of the National Radiological Protection Board, the standards body which is partly funded by the Department of Health.

"We're doing all we can to encourage this programme's funding," a spokesman said. "We are desperate for high-quality research in this area that can be seen as independent."