Biophysics Research


Biophysics is applying multidisciplinary approaches to investigate a range of patient and population based healthcare issues.

Akroti Health Study (Cyprus)

Executive Summary There have been antennae on the Akrotiri Salt Lake military site for a number of years, but the proposal to erect Pluto 2, a larger antenna, was greeted with massive demonstrations and media campaigns. In January 2002 the village leader of Akrotiri sent a letter to the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Cyprus requesting the immediate commission of a health survey. It was decided that a team of consultants from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom in collaboration with the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Cyprus should carry out the survey. The objective of the study was to establish a baseline of the health status of two communities, Akrotiri and Asomatos, compared with a control community, Pano Kyvides and to measure their exposure to specific environmental factors. The health survey investigated the prevalence of specific symptoms and diseases, using specifically designed questionnaires; a risk perception survey; and a collection of health and mortality data from available registry and other sources. The measurement survey collected electromagnetic field (EMF) data. This report gives a brief review of the literature and describes the methodology that was used for both the health survey and the measurement survey. It presents detailed results and comments.

The analysis has shown that the three villages were in fact well matched and provided a good basis for the comparison of exposed and unexposed populations. The overall response rate was 87%. In analysing the questionnaire data a number of important issues have become apparent. Firstly the responses to the adult health questionnaire provided significant differences between the villages (and not just between exposed and unexposed). In Akrotiri there was an increased reporting of migraine, headache, dizziness and depression. A similar trend was noted in Asomatos although at lower levels. What was also observed in Asomatos was a significant increase in reported asthma and heart problems. Using a standard validated questionnaire (SF36) the villagers in Akrotiri reported a more negative view of their health than those from the other two villages. Akrotiri reported a higher degree of physical limitation, emotional distress and pain. In addition the risk perception sections of the questionnaire showed that Akrotiri respondents had a higher level of perceived risk than the other two villages.

In reviewing these findings in relation to the published literature there is no evidence of an association between asthma and heart problems and exposure to electromagnetic fields. On the other hand there is a consistent literature that cognitive and neurological effects are associated with electromagnetic field exposure. However, this is normally only found at higher levels and higher frequencies and associated with mobile phone use as covered in detail in the Stewart Report. There is subsequently only one report of an association between cognitive function and well-being effects at low exposures and the exposures levels recorded in that report were of 1 volt per metre. The measurement study here confirmed an average value of 0.57 volts per metre in Akrotiri and 0.46 in Asomatos. In Pano Kyvides the levels were less than 0.001 volts per metre. It is worth noting that the Pluto Antenna contributed 10% of exposure in Asomatos and about 20% in Akrotiri. The other sources are various broadcast antennae in particular the cell phone mast in Akrotiri. In the communities under study it is to be noted that the electric field levels from all sources were less than the precautionary level generally applied in a number of countries. It seems unlikely that the EM level is contributing to the neurological symptoms reported by those living in close to the military antenna. Given the importance of the high levels of neurological symptoms reported in Akrotiri the information provided by the adult questionnaire gave the opportunity to analyse the relative importance of location (i.e. village) in explaining this outcome. The logistic regression analysis confirmed the importance of village, but also the contribution made by several other key factors including gender and education.

The findings from female questionnaires do not provide evidence of any differences between exposed and unexposed sites in gynaecological and obstetric history. Of particular interest, there was an absence of any difference in reported levels of miscarriage. Miscarriage has been associated with exposure to high levels of EMF in previous studies; however, this has not been found in this research.

Birth abnormalities have been associated with high-level EMF in the literature; no evidence of any abnormalities was found in the child questionnaire. There were, however, significant differences in the reporting of migraine, headache, dizziness and depression, with exposed sites reporting increased incidence. In relation to infectious diseases there were six conditions where increased levels were reported, five of these in Asomatos and one in Akrotiri.

The mortality studies produced results that were difficult to interpret, due to the different results produced by the different methods of estimating the Standardised Mortality Ratios. Although attempts were made to check the reliability of reporting systems, one against another, this was not entirely satisfactory.

One of the specific objectives was to establish whether there was an excess of brain tumours and leukaemias from Akrotiri. This did not appear to be the case but with such small numbers over a ten-year period the absence of evidence does not imply that there is no association; it would be impossible for this study to come to any definitive conclusions using data covering the period of operation for the antennae.

The report makes a number of recommendations including the following:

    • The villages should be made aware that the health effects recorded in this study are associated with anxiety, and that the levels of electromagnetic fields recorded are not sufficient to account for these observations.
    • The villages should be made aware that no long-term deleterious effects on pregnancy and childhood have been recorded.

Microwave Research

Contrary to conventional wisdom that exposure to micro-wave energy from mobile phones does not produce physiological changes in the body, our paper demonstrated that statistically significant changes did take place (Preece et al Int J Radiat Biol (1999) 7(4): 447-456). Our current research programme is investigating these physiological changes in greater detail using both human volunteers and anatomically correct phantoms which we have developed. We are also working in collaboration with the UK’s National Physical Laboratory and a number of organisations in EU countries.

Microwaves can be used as any other padiatinon to tissue. In collaboration with the Engineering Faculty we are developming a breat scanner using this technique.

50Hz Electromagnetic Field Research

There is world-wide concern that childhood cancer is linked with magnetic field exposure from overhead electricity supply cables. We have an extensive research programme investigating both 50Hz electric and magnetic fields in the environment and are developing algorithms for both indoor and outdoor exposure. Additionally we are linking this work with two major child health projects, one in the Bristol area and the other on the Isle of Man.

Childhood Cancer, Leukaemia and Electromagnetic Field Research

The purpose of this study was to investigate the possible relationship between brain tumours and leukaemia in children and electromagnetic fields in the South West. A case-control format was utilised aiming to recruit children diagnosed with such conditions and control children (matched by gender, age and ethnicity). During a visit to the family home, detailed measurements of the electromagnetic fields in the home were taken and an interview conducted concerning electrical appliance use and other possible confounding factors.

High Voltage Overhead Power Line Mapping and Cancer

We have digitised high voltage overhead power lines in Wales, South West and Trent regions. Using an algorithm we have developed for determining the orthogonal distance of homes from the lines and whether an address is upwind or downwind of power lines. In conjunction with post-code data and data from the relevant cancer registry we can determine the incidence of various cancers at varying distances and up or down wind from the lines. From our 50Hz electromagnetic field research, we have profiles for both electric and magnetic fields generated by the lines.


The Biophysics Group is a principal contractor in the EU thematic network "Policy Interpretation Network on Children's Health and Environment" or PINCHE which is funded under the EU Framework 5 Quality of Life Programme.

The aim of the network is to provide information that will assist policy development in the area of child health and environment. The University of Bristol is the theme leader for the carcinogenesis topic and contributes to the neurotoxicants topic. Currently we are assessing the scientific literature in order to collect, analyse and interpret the results of research in these areas and form the basis for a framework for policy development.

Placental Transfer Research

The Biophysics Group has developed several models to investigate the placental transfer of environmental or medical agents to the fetus. These include the development of an in vitro perfused human placenta model to assess the transfer and uptake of radionuclides used in medical procedures or taken up from the environment during pregnancy. Limited human data is available to determine the resultant fetal radiation dose and evaluation of an alternative to animal models is required. Other studies are under way to investigate the transfer of environmental chemicals.

Multiple Sclerosis Research

In the MS Research Unit studies into new methods to improve the management and treatment of Multiple Sclerosis are carried out. Current research is aimed at restoring function and improving the quality of life for people with MS. Key projects involve the management of tremor and other movement problems and the investigation of the loss of nerve function. Facial Palsy. Unique EMG methods for the evaluation of function of facial musculature are applied to the study of facial paralysis in adults and children.

EEG Research

The development of an EEG monitor for use in hypnosis and other applications.