If you thought vaping was safe, Kansas researchers have bad news

A robot at KU’s School of Medicine takes the vapor from e-cigarettes to test it on human cells from lung donors. (Photo by Celia Llopis-Jepsen, Kansas News Service)

by Celia Llopis-Jepsen, Kansas News Service

Many people figure vaping spares their health because it lets them inhale nicotine in aerosols instead of sucking in smoke from burning cigarettes.

New research from the University of Kansas casts doubt on that, raising the specter that vaping nicotine may cause some of the same respiratory problems that plague and even kill smokers today.

“Vaping is just considered not harmful, even though there are no data to support that statement,” researcher Matthias Salathe said. “There are more and more data to actually oppose that statement.”

Salathe chairs the Department of Internal Medicine at KU’s School of Medicine, where his lab uses a robot that vapes to test the effects on human cells obtained from deceased lung donors.

The team’s latest research, published last month by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found vaping nicotine damaged the natural ability of those cells to clear out mucus.

That dysfunction leads to chronic bronchitis — and the coughing, shortness of breath and fatigue that come with it. Scientists such as Salathe worry that means the vaping trend sweeping the U.S. could eventually translate into more people developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Commonly caused by smoking, COPD is already a leading cause of death in the United States.

The KU researchers found that the aerosols from nicotine e-cigarettes hurt mucus-clearing abilities in sheep, too. (Sheep were used because of similarities between their respiratory system and that of humans.)

Yet the KU research remains at the pre-clinical phase, meaning scientists have more work ahead to answer the question with greater certainty.

Taken in context with other research, though, Salathe sees reason for worry. His lab’s results add to a mounting body of evidence that vaping causes such problems, including evidence from studies on living people who vape.

Getting more definitive answers, though, takes time. Rigorous scientific research can’t move as fast as the vaping craze that now has millions of U.S. teenagersinhaling nicotine. And diseases like COPD play out over years.

“To really know, we need to wait 10 to 20 years, right? To see whether these humans are actually developing the diseases that we predict,” Salathe said. “The question is, now from a policy point of view, is that an acceptable experiment to actually do in the population?”

Tobacco use remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the U.S.

More than 20 cities and counties across Kansas have banned the sale of tobacco-related products to people under the age of 21 in hopes of preventing them from becoming hooked.

That’s based on studies that show most people who become addicted long-term begin using nicotine in their teens.

Last month the Kansas Supreme Court upheld local bans on sales to people under 21 in a case brought by vape and tobacco shops against the city of Topeka. Wyandotte County has had an ordinance since November 2015 raising the age for sale of tobacco-related products to 21.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports on consumer health and education for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @celialj_LJ or email her at celia (at) kcur (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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National health and research project comes to Bethany Park in KCK

The All of Us Journey to Health Traveling Exhibit will be at Bethany Park, 1120 Central Ave., Kansas City, Kansas, through May 10. (Submitted photo)

The public has a chance to participate in a national health and research project today through May 10 at Bethany Park, 1120 Central Ave., Kansas City, Kansas.

The Central Avenue Betterment Association is the local host for the All of Us Journey to Health Traveling Exhibit, which will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 7 through May 10 at Bethany Park.

The exhibit is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. It will raise awareness about health and the All of Us Research Program, and will gather genetic, biological, environmental, health and lifestyle data from 1 million or more volunteers who live in the United States. The participants will share information about their health over time.

The All of Us Research Program will be at Bethany Park, 1120 Central Ave., Kansas City, Kansas, through May 10. (Submitted photo)

Edgar Galicia, executive director of CABA, said this is a biobank that will gather data for health at the molecular level from people. The data will be available to researchers, without individual names being revealed, and the researchers will conduct studies in order to cure diseases.

Galicia said this event is free and open to the public. Those who are asked to provide samples and decide to participate may be paid $25 in a gift card, cash or electronic voucher.

According to a spokesman for the All of Us Research Program, this traveling exhibit is an attempt to include all communities in clinical and biomedical research.

Participants in the All of Us Research Program will be able to access their own health information, summary data about the entire participant community and information about studies and findings that come from the All of Us Research Program.

For more information about the program, visit JoinAllofUs.org/juntos.

Study identifies two proteins that suppress tumor growth in fruit flies; suggests similar effect on human cancers

The concept sounds simple, but understanding the process has been elusive: Cut off the nutrient supply to suppress the growth of tumors.

Now researchers in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University are unveiling promising results for this concept by studying the behaviors of specific proteins in fruit flies. The proteins have known counterparts in humans.

“In our latest study, we identified ‘Headcase,’ or Hdc, and ‘Unkempt,’ or Unk, as two nutrient-restriction-specific tumor suppressor proteins that form a complex that acts to restrict cell-cycle progression and tissue growth in response to nutrient stress in Drosophila or fruit flies,” said Jianzhong Yu, assistant professor and cancer biologist in the college’s anatomy and physiology department.

Yu is collaborating with Naren Li, postdoctoral fellow in anatomy and physiology; Yulan Xiong, assistant professor of anatomy and physiology; and Qinfang Liu, doctoral student in physiology.

The four of them recently published an article on their latest research, “Headcase and Unkempt Regulate Tissue Growth and Cell Cycle Progression in Response to Nutrient Restriction,” in the journal Cell Reports.

Their study was supported in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Kansas INBRE program, a startup fund and SUCCESS-FYI Intramural Grant from the College of Veterinary Medicine. The work is also supported by the Johnson Cancer Research Center at Kansas State University.

“Given the role of the human counterparts of these proteins, our results suggest that Hdc and Unk may function as tumor suppressors in mammals,” Yu said. “Although the human ortholog of Unk has not been studied in the context of cell proliferation, we showed that both Hdc and Unk are able to inhibit tissue growth in vivo in the Drosophila model. Thus, it is worthwhile in the future to investigate the growth control function of these two proteins, especially in regard to the formation of cancer tumors.”