A preclinical study recently published by researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry suggests that vaping may have negative effects on the pulmonary surfactant in the lungs.
Surfactant, a critical layer made of lipids and proteins, is essential for easy breathing by reducing surface tension in the lungs. Without surfactant, it would take more effort to breathe and a person would need mechanical help to do so.
“Vaping continues to be popular but not much is known about what happens with the aerosol when it enters the lungs,” says Dr. Ruud Veldhuizen, Lawson Scientist and Professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. “We realized that the first thing the vapor aerosol comes in contact with in the lungs is pulmonary surfactant, which is an area our team specializes in.”
The research team was able to study the effects by placing a film of surfactant inside a syringe and, then using a vaping device to push aerosol into the syringe. This allowed the vapor to directly interact with the surfactant. The researchers then mimicked inhaling and exhaling vapor into the syringe 30 times to resemble a standard vaping session.
“In particular we were looking at the surface tension in the surfactant,” explains Emma Graham, Master’s student at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. “After vaping, we saw high surface tension which suggests the surfactant would not be as effective at supporting proper lung functioning.”
The team also examined different vaping devices, flavors, additives, and nicotine to see if there were any differences in effects.
“Nicotine didn’t have any worse effects on the surface tension of surfactant compared to other e-liquids, but some flavorings like menthol e-liquid did,” says Graham.
While his team intends to study this further, Veldhuizen says these findings could provide an indication as to why people who vape have a susceptibility to develop lung injury, including those with respiratory viruses such as COVID-19.
“We would like to get this information out there so that people know vaping may be damaging to the lungs,” says Veldhuizen. “As a next step, we hope to further investigate the effects of vaping on the lungs and how we can treat resulting injury.”
Reference: “E-cigarette aerosol exposure of pulmonary surfactant impairs its surface tension reducing function” by Emma Graham, Lynda McCaig, Gloria Shui-Kei Lau, Akash Tejura, Anne Cao, Yi Y. Zuo and Ruud Veldhuizen, 9 November 2022, PLOS One.
These findings build on a body of research about the impacts of vaping through Lawson and Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. The researchers were the first in the world to report on a potential new type of vaping-related injury in 2019.