Researchers at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Lawson Health Research Institute have shown that vaping has a negative effect on a critical layer in the lungs and may harm lung function.
The study, published in the PLOS ONE Journal, shows that vaping affects pulmonary surfactant – a layer in the lungs made up of lipids and proteins that allows people to breathe with minimal effort by reducing surface tension.
“Vaping continues to be popular but not much is known about what happens with the aerosol when it enters the lungs,” said Ruud Veldhuizen, professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and Lawson scientist. “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 placed a film of surfactant inside a syringe and then used 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,” said 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, flavours, additives and nicotine to see if there were any difference in effects.
“Nicotine didn’t have any worse effects on surface tension of surfactant compared to other e-liquids, but some flavourings like menthol e-liquid did,” said 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 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.”
These findings build on a body of research about the impacts of vaping through Lawson and Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. Our researchers were the first in the world to report on a potential new type of vaping-related injury in 2019.