UWindsor professor Drew Marquardt says his research will help pinpoint which ingredients found in vapes and e-cigarettes are contributing to severe lung illness in users.
His project “Vaping-Associated Lung Injury: Insight into Mechanisms of Action” received $15,000 as part of the Breathing as One Young Investigators Research Award, a Canadian Lung Association program led by the Lung Health Foundation.
“Lung injury from vaping was established as an epidemic mere months before the COVID pandemic struck and since then has largely flown under the radar,” says Dr. Marquardt, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, cross-appointed to the Department of Physics.
“Yet there’s been a surge in young people aged 18 to 30 who are vaping and a large number of them are getting sick, so we are interested in how ingredients like Vitamin E acetate interact with the lungs, contributing to this dangerous alveolar, or lung, injury.”
Marquardt (pictured at left) and his team are investigating how Vitamin E acetate and other ingredients induce e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI), by changing the way the lungs work on a mechanical and molecular level.
“Vitamin E acetate is likely not the sole culprit of the severe respiratory dysfunction seen in EVALI so we are also looking at propylene glycol, glycerin, and flavourings — ingredients touted to be safe when ingested but which produce potentially problematic by-products when heated to 190-230°C inside electronic vaping devices,” he says.
“By investigating at the molecular level, we are looking at the problem through a lens that few others would.”
The team will focus primarily on the pulmonary surfactant. The single lipid molecule thick layer is found on all on human lungs and allows them to expand and compress. However, any disruption can cause the aveoli to collapse.
By taking models and extracts of this layer and looking at how its physical properties, compressibility, and bending change, the researchers can look at how the basic structure changes.
The project is a collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods (CCAAM), which will provide a 3D-printed model of human lung tissue for Marquardt to study, instead of needing patients or animals.
“CCAAM researchers can create what they dub an Alveoli-in-a-Dish: a novel, 3D-bioprinted human alveolar tissue model suitable for respiratory disease research designed to unravel molecular and cellular mechanisms underpinning lung disease, and acute inhalation toxicity testing – lung injury mediated by exposure to chemicals in consumer products,” says Marquardt.
“This allows us to assess human alveolar function and toxicity, and the 3D model replaces the need for animals in inhalation toxicity testing.”