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Flavored E-Cigarette Liquid May Harm Lungs Even Without Nicotine, Study Suggests

Monday, February 12, 2018

By Lisa Rapaport (Reuters Health)

E-cigarette liquids sweetened with flavorings like vanilla and cinnamon may harm the lungs even when they don’t contain nicotine, a U.S. study suggests.

Researchers examined what happened to monocytes, a type of white blood cell, upon exposure to flavoring chemicals used in popular e-cigarette liquids. None of the liquids contained nicotine, but the flavoring chemicals still appeared to increase biomarkers for inflammation and tissue damage, and many of them also caused cells to die.

Over time, this type of cell damage can lead to wide range of lung problems including fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and asthma, said senior study author Irfan Rahman, an environmental health researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center in upstate New York.

“Nicotine-free e-liquids have generally been considered safe; however, the impact of flavoring chemicals, especially on immune cells, has not been widely researched,” Rahman said by email. “This study shows that even though flavoring compounds are considered safe for ingestion, it is not safe for inhalation.”

Read More: Flavored E-Cigarette Liquid May Harm Lungs Even Without Nicotine, Study Suggests

E-Cigarette Flavors Are Toxic to White Blood Cells, Warn Scientists

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A new study led by the Rahman lab and first author, Toxicology post-doctoral researcher, Dr. Thivanka Muthumalage, adds to growing evidence on the harmful health effects of e-cigarettes. Currently, the article has been viewed over 16,500 times (in just one day) and several news sources have written articles and reported about it across the globe.

The paper has been so well received that it is currently ranked in the top 5% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric.

The study has revealed another potential health risk of e-cigarettes, finding that the chemicals used to flavour e-cigarette liquids are toxic to white blood cells. The study wanted to test the assumption that nicotine-free flavoured e-liquids are safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes, looking at what effect e-cigs might have on the immune system.

To do this the researchers directly exposed a type of white blood cell called monocytes, which help the body fight infection, to e-liquids. They found that e-cigarette flavoring chemicals and liquids can cause significant inflammation to monocytes, with many of the flavouring chemicals also causing significant cell death. Some flavours were found to be more harmful than others, with cinnamon, vanilla, and buttery flavours among the worst.

The researchers also found that mixing e-cigarette flavours has a much worse effect than exposure to just one flavour and caused the most toxicity to white blood cells.

The study's first author, Dr. Thivanka Muthumalage, commented on the findings, saying that although these flavouring compounds may be safe for ingestion, the results show they are not safe for inhalation and add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that e-cigarettes are harmful to health. Previous research has also found that the flavors used in e-cigarettes cause inflammatory and oxidative stress responses in lung cells.

Senior author Dr. Irfan Rahman expressed concern: “Our scientific findings show that e-liquid flavors can, and should, be regulated and that e-juice bottles must have a descriptive listing of all ingredients. We urge regulatory agencies to act to protect public health,” he said, also warning that, “alluring flavour names, such as candy, cake, cinnamon roll and mystery mix, attract young vapers.”

The team are now planning further research and are calling for further long-term human studies to understand better the harmful effects of e-cigarettes. The findings can be found published online in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

To learn more please read the following articles:

Remembering a Pioneer of Environmental Health Science

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

By Pete Myers, Richard Stahlhut, Joan Cranmer, Steven Gilbert, Shanna Swan

Colleagues honor Bernard "Bernie" Weiss (1925-2018)—a remarkable scientist, thinker, visionary and writer

One rarely is lucky enough to drive the early evolution of a new scientific discipline, but Bernard (Bernie) Weiss was there, always at the forefront as the field of behavioral toxicology took shape.

And along with the many students he inspired, he remained there throughout his career. Blending psychology, toxicology, and technology, Bernie Weiss shaped this discipline using new methods to explore the subtle, and not so subtle, effects of environmental chemicals on behavior and the nervous system.

He was a remarkable scientist, thinker, visionary, and writer. Bernie Weiss passed away on the morning of January 22, 2018.

Bernie was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1925 and served in the Air Force from 1944-45. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from New York University in 1949, and a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology in 1953 from the University of Rochester. From Rochester, he took a job at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, but was recruited back to University of Rochester in 1965 by Dr. Harold Hodge to explore the behavioral consequences of exposure to toxicants, such as inorganic mercury vapor.

Bernie was a pioneer. In the 1960s he was one of the first to use LINC (Laboratory Instrument Computer) and Digital Equipment Computer (DEC). Computer systems would later allow researchers to perform incredibly complex experiments and collect data at a level of detail never before imagined, thereby revealing subtle effects of chemicals on behavior.

Bernie's lab led the way in computer-controlled experiments in behavioral toxicology, as well as to assess the effects of low levels of drugs and metals on the sensory systems of vision, touch and hearing. Many of these testing capabilities were transferred to and shared with other research laboratories.

Bernie also addressed the investigation of rare, idiosyncratic toxicity, such as food additives and multiple chemical sensitivity. By their nature, these investigations require less traditional study designs in which the subjects are not randomly assigned to the exposure group (most people would never respond), but the exposures are randomly applied in a blinded fashion to people believed to have the conditions.

Bernie was a master of technical details, but he also kept his eye on the big picture. Just one example: he pioneered the idea that small decreases in the average IQ of a population could lead to big decreases in intellectual stars, and big increases in people with individual cognitive disabilities.

Population level effects have consequences.

As the science of behavioral toxicology and related research methods evolved, Bernie continued to champion the scientific facts demonstrating that low levels of exposure to chemicals could have profound effects on the developing nervous system. He encouraged others to take on this work, pursuing for him what became a lifelong goal: to make the world a safer, more resilient place for all.

Bernie was a generous and enduring collaborator. One notable example is his long-term collaboration with Victor Laties (Ph.D. Psychology University of Rochester, '54). Together they shepherded the discipline of behavioral toxicology from its origins in behavioral pharmacology to its distinguished and impactful status today.

Bernie was also a great mentor, who created a unique atmosphere of stability with flexibility that gave his students, staff and collaborators support and encouraged creativity necessary for good science and to explore new ways to answer research questions. He always made himself available to students and staff to discuss problems and scientific challenges, and to explore new methods to try to answer questions.

Bernie wasn't satisfied to remain quietly within the cloistered halls of academia. He saw the human implications of his work and while always the scientist, he pushed hard to apply that science to protect human and environmental health. Many of Bernie's students went on to have important and impactful careers in academia, government and industry.

The family encourages gifts of remembrance be donated to the University of Rochester Weiss Endowment Fund, supporting the Weiss Toxicology Scholar Award for pre-doctoral and postdoctoral trainees. The Fund has supported 8 scholars since 2014.

Pete Myers, Environmental Health Sciences; Richard W. Stahlhut, University of Missouri at Columbia; Joan Cranmer, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Steven G. Gilbert, Institute of Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders; Shanna H. Swan, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Read More: Remembering a Pioneer of Environmental Health Science

URMC Professor Emeritus and Pioneer of Neurotoxicology Dies at 92

Thursday, January 25, 2018


Bernard "Bernie" Weiss, Ph.D.

By Susanne Pallo

Bernard “Bernie” Weiss, ’53 (Ph.D.), professor emeritus of Environmental Medicine and Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, passed away on January 22 at the age of 92 as the result of a fall.

Weiss was a monumental and beloved figure in the scientific community, and helped found a field of research that tracks the impact of toxic chemicals on human behavior. His research sparked national discussions about the dangers of artificial food dyes, pesticides, and chemicals in plastics. He often advocated for better policies to protect the public.

As recently as 2015, Weiss participated in a national debate over the safety of food dyes, which the Food and Drug Administration had declared safe. Citing studies that showed an association between children ingesting food dyes and hyperactivity, Weiss supported a ban. Several large manufacturers, including Kraft, announced they would remove artificial food coloring such as Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 from its macaroni and cheese, replacing the dyes with natural ingredients such as turmeric and paprika.

”We are all gamblers. We scheme to conquer chance, to beguile it into surrender, to lull it into forgiveness. In the end, it subdues us; but without malice, and at times to our advantage. Like other lives, mine has been hostage to random collisions… Neurotoxicology will continue to be an adventure as long as its practitioners remain adventurers.”

Into the final years of his career, Weiss sat on advisory boards that review data and make recommendations about dioxin (an industrial waste product), metals, dental amalgams, the environmental conditions on NASA spacecraft, and air quality aboard commercial airplanes. Up to about two years ago, he could be found in lab several days a week, happy to offer consultation and support to other researchers. A scientific paper he co-authored is in the process of being published.

Deborah Cory-Slechta, Ph.D., professor and former chair of Environmental Medicine at URMC, trained as a postdoc in his lab. “Many of the issues Bernie began to address thirty or forty years ago are still major issues in the field today," she said. "He moved issues forward with creativity and foresight and his legacies will be with the field for a long time to come.”

Another colleague was fellow environmental health pioneer David Ozonoff, M.D., M.P.H., chair emeritus of environmental health at Boston University School of Public Health and co-editor-in-chief of the online journal, Environmental Health. He admired Weiss for his steadfastness, persistence to shared ideals, willingness to put his expertise at the service of the common good, his good humor, and not least, his major contributions to science.

“His legacy will not only be the scientific advances he made but those that will be made by others inspired and mentored by him,” Ozonoff said.

Weiss’ career began and ended at the University of Rochester. He earned a doctoral degree in Psychology at the University in 1953 and returned 12 years later as a faculty member.

In the intervening years, Weiss, a WWII Air Force veteran, conducted research at the Air Force School of Aviation Medicine in Texas, then Johns Hopkins University. He began developing ways to measure the impact of drugs, nutrients and chemicals on the brain, and built one of the first mini-computers ever used in research.

In 1965, Weiss was lured back to URMC as it launched one of the world’s first programs to grant a doctoral degree in toxicology. His research and mentorship helped build the program, which recently established the Bernard Weiss Endowment Fund in honor of his indelible mark on the program. The fund, which was organized by a group of URMC Toxicology Graduate Program alumni and staff, provides support for future leaders in the fields of neurotoxicology and toxicology.

Weiss received several honors. He was named Scientist of the Year by the Association of Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities in 1986. In 2003 he received a Distinguished Investigator Award from the Neurotoxicology Specialty Section of the Society of Toxicology. During the mid-1970s, Weiss took part in the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Environmental Health Exchange Agreement, where he led several U.S. delegations in discussions of behavioral toxicology with their counterparts across the globe.

When asked for an autobiographical statement for the journal Neurotoxicology forty years ago, Weiss wrote:

”We are all gamblers. We scheme to conquer chance, to beguile it into surrender, to lull it into forgiveness. In the end, it subdues us; but without malice, and at times to our advantage. Like other lives, mine has been hostage to random collisions… Neurotoxicology will continue to be an adventure as long as its practitioners remain adventurers.”

Weiss is survived by his children, Wendy (Les) Calkins and Tom (Debora) Weiss; grandchildren, Zachary (Sara), Nicole, William, Emily (Marcelo); brother, Leonard (Sandra); beloved partner, Marti Willit; nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held at a later date.

To honor Weiss, consider making a contribution to the Bernard Weiss Endowment Fund.

Read More: URMC Professor Emeritus and Pioneer of Neurotoxicology Dies at 92

Dr. Thivanka Muthumalage To Present Research At SRNT and SOT

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Dr. Thivanka Muthumalage, a Toxicology Postdoc in the Rahman lab, has been selected for an oral/podium presentation for his abstract, "Cellular Toxicity and Reactive Oxygen Species Prodution by Commonly Used Flavoring Agents in E-Cigarette Liquids", at the 2018 Meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT). The Annual Meeting will be held February 21-24, 2018, at the Hilton Baltimore Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Muthumalage's abstract, "Immuno-Toxicological Response in Monocytes to E-Cigarette Flavor Chemicals and E-Liquids" has also been selected as a Platform Presentation during the 57th Annual Meeting of the Society of Toxicology (SOT), March 11–15, 2018 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Congratulations Thivanka!

Melanie Prinz's Poster Selected for Presentation at NCUR 2018

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Rahman lab undergrad, Melanie Prinz's poster abstract submission, "Reactive Oxygen Species Production by Commonly Used Flavoring Agents in E-Cigarette Liquids " was selected for presentation at NCUR 2018 at the University of Central Oklahoma. Chosen from more than 4,000 submissions, her abstract demonstrates a unique contribution to her field of study, and NCUR was glad to offer her the opportunity to present this work to her peers, faculty, and staff from all over the nation.

It’s impossible to separate a university and its community. They are connected by vision, by need, by goals. Together, they thrive. The National Conference on Undergraduate Research 2018 embraces this vital relationship in the conference theme, Connection to Place, recognizing the increasing need for direct relevance of an educational experience to the communities that await the college graduate in 2018 and beyond.

Congratulations Melanie!