What are e-cigarettes and what do we need to know about them?
Welcome back! This time, our team at Precisionary Instruments would like to focus on the topic of e-cigarettes because this is a hot topic in the news. E-cigarettes (also known as electronic cigarettes, e-cigs, electronic nicotine delivery systems, etc) and other vaping products are now gaining wide use especially among young adults and even adolescents. Since September 2019, federal and state health officials have been investigating illnesses and deaths caused by severe lung disease linked to the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products. A e-cigarette is a battery-operated device that produces vaporized nicotine or non-nicotine solutions to be inhaled. These devices provide users with a sensation like inhaling tobacco smoke, but without the smoke. Vaping is now the most popular form of tobacco use among adolescents in the United States, with e-cigarette usage rising over 900% between 2011 and 2015.
E-cigarettes are sold as aids to help reduce or quit smoking. But it seems that young adults are using these devices to vape for its own sake, not to replace tobacco use. Despite the ease of use and its smokeless nature, a growing body of evidence suggests that e-cigarettes and other vaping products may be hazardous to health.
What is the impact of e-cigarettes on the lungs?
Since e-cigarettes produce vapor to be inhaled, the lungs are the primary organs initially affected by vaping. In the news, you may have heard or read about the deadly impact that e-cigarettes may have had on users by causing respiratory failure. In research labs, scientists have found that exposure to e-cig smoke can cause lung cancer in mice. In this specific study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers found that 9 of 40 mice (22.5%) exposed to e-cig smoke with nicotine for 54 weeks developed lung adenocarcinomas. Take a look at the results below! On the left is an image of normal mouse lung tissue—you’ll see nice alveolar sacs that are open for air exchange. On the right is a gross anatomy image of a lung lobe taken from a mouse exposed to e-cig smoke. You’ll see a large lung tumor, with histology slides of the tumor.
In addition, a study by scientists at Baylor College of Medicine explored the effects of e-cig vapors on mouse lungs and the function of immune cells (called macrophages) in lungs. Macrophages are the first line of defense against major respiratory infections such as those caused by viruses. The group found that mice treated by e-cigarette vapors (no nicotine) had damaged lungs, with abnormal buildup of fats in the lungs that would disrupt normal lung structure and function. In the image below, you’ll see a normal macrophage from a mouse that was exposed to clean air. Next to it, you’ll see an abnormal macrophage from a mouse exposed to e-cig smoke (ENDs-vehicle; notice the lipid or fat droplets indicated by the arrows which are abnormal). These results reveal that chronic inhalation of e-cigarette vapors damage mouse lungs and disrupt the respiratory system’s ability to adequately respond to infections. You can read about the entire study here.
What is the impact of e-cigarettes on the brain?
While the link between vaping and severe lung problems is getting a lot of attention, research studies have found that e-cig smoke also affects brain tissue. For example, a team at the University of California, Riverside, has found that e-cigarettes produce a stress response in neural stem cells. When this type of cellular response persists, the neural stem cells get damaged and may eventually die, which could lead to and/or accelerate neurodegenerative diseases. You can explore the details of this publication here.
Since many users of e-cigarettes are teenagers, it’s important to think about how vaping can affect the teenage brain. The brain is particularly vulnerable during adolescent years because it is still undergoing development and maturation, and this can affect behaviors later on in life.
Our support for e-cigarette research
What does this mean for Precisionary Instrument scientists? One of the major steps in research is studying structure and function. Biologists have used the Compresstome vibrating microtome as an important tool to get tissue slices for immunohistochemistry, H&E staining, and physiology research. Physiology studies of live lung tissue, such as precision-cut lung slices, and brain tissue, such as electrophysiology, will help us better understand the functional impact of e-cigarettes on two body organs.