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PhD student Mitchell DiPasqualePhD student Mitchell DiPasquale is using synthetic membranes to study the physical effects of vaping and e-cigarettes.

Award to fund doctoral research into e-cigarettes

Mitchell DiPasquale (BSc 2017) is taking the health debate surrounding vaping and e-cigarettes down to the molecular level.

E-cigarette or Vaping use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) can range from shortness of breath to severe lung damage requiring intensive care.

DiPasquale, a doctoral candidate in chemistry and biochemistry, is using synthetic membranes to study the physical effects of EVALI.

For this research he was awarded the Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarships Doctoral Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The award provides special recognition and support to students who are pursuing a doctoral degree in a health-related field in Canada.

“Little is known about what causes EVALI, but evidence suggests it may stem from a physical interaction between toxicants in the vape and the pulmonary surfactant — a thin layer inside the lungs that helps with the expansion and contraction of breathing,” says DiPasquale.

“We are specifically studying how agents such as vitamin E acetate in e-cigarettes and vapes, cause a physical interaction in that thin layer in the lungs, likely changing the elasticity of the lining.”

The researcher will use a range of biophysical experiments on extracted pulmonary surfactant to reveal sub-molecular level changes. He says these small changes can have serious large-scale effects that may define the lung dysfunction observed in EVALI.

“Together, the knowledge gained from this study will offer new insights that can benefit the prognosis of EVALI victims and identify potential complications associated with long-term use,” DiPasquale says.

The next step will be to team up with researchers from the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods to work with 3D bioprinted model of human lung tissue.

“This advanced model allows us to study the physics of human biology, but without needing to experiment on patients,” says DiPasquale.

Drew Marquardt, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and cross-appointed to the Department of Physics, is DiPasquale’s supervisor.

“This is an impressive accomplishment that hasn’t been achieved at UWindsor in a decade and it is great to see Mitchell acknowledged for this important lung research,” says Dr. Marquardt.

DiPasquale will receive $35,000 per year for three years, with $5,000 dedicated to offsetting research costs.