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Researchers Draw More Links between Vaping, Smoking, Young People, and Coronavirus

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

What do vapers, smokers, and non-smokers with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes have in common? They all are at higher risk for COVID-19.

The scientific explanation behind this is complex and not yet certain — but it may boil down to an enzyme known as ACE2, that lives on the surface of many cells in the lungs and serves as the entry point for the coronavirus.

Evidence shows that people with chronic inflammatory illnesses, vulnerable older adults, and those who smoke or vape, all have an abundance of ACE2 receptor proteins to serve as a gateway to the deadly virus.

A research team at the University of Rochester Medical Center, led by Irfan Rahman, Ph.D., published a series of studies during the pandemic that focus on the vital role of ACE2 — which is already at the center of many other scientific investigations — to shape a clearer picture of the critical cellular mechanisms that regulate the deadly virus and its link to vaping.

While Rochester investigators are working in lockstep with scientists around the world, Rahman’s special interest is on the growing problem of young people who test positive and may be spreading coronavirus at alarming rates. Even some older children and teens who have higher levels of the ACE2 receptor seem to be more vulnerable to the virus.

“Our next step is to investigate whether ACE2 is normally low in young people, hence their relatively low infection and mortality rates from COVID-19, but to find out if ACE2 is increased by smoking or vaping rendering them more susceptible to the virus,” said Rahman, Dean’s Professor of Environmental Medicine, Medicine (Pulmonary), and Public Health Sciences. “This would be in contrast to older people with lung diseases such as COPD and pulmonary fibrosis, who we already know are at higher risk for severe viral illnesses and death.”

Read More: Researchers Draw More Links between Vaping, Smoking, Young People, and Coronavirus

Still wiping down your grocery store purchases? Coronavirus risk is 'exceedingly small,' experts say

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many people cleaned grocery-store purchases with disinfecting wipes before putting them away at home.

At that point, it was recommended as a best practice to avoid contagion. The thinking was that because the virus can survive on surfaces for short periods of time, someone could touch a contaminated item and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth and possibly infect themselves.

Now, however, a lot more is known about how COVID-19 spreads – primarily from person to person through droplets in the air. The risk of getting it from surfaces, including grocery packaging, is “exceedingly small,” said Melissa Bronstein, senior director of infection prevention for Rochester Regional Health and a registered nurse.

The most up-to-date information on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “because of the poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely a very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.” In fact, it goes on to say that no cases of COVID-19 have been linked to people touching food or food packaging and then touching their faces.

“Some people are really scared, so if it makes them feel safer to wipe things down, then it’s important for them to do that,” said Katrina Korfmacher, a director at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Environmental Health Sciences Center. (She noted that it should be done safely, so that people don’t end up ingesting disinfectants.)

The Link Between Parkinson’s Disease and Toxic Chemicals

Monday, July 20, 2020

Ending Parkinson's Disease: A Prescription for Action,” co-authored by University of Rochester Professor of Neurology Dr. Ray Dorsey, was featured in the New York Times. The book highlights the importance  of reducing environmental exposures as part of efforts to address the disease.

Read More: The Link Between Parkinson’s Disease and Toxic Chemicals

Coordinating Coronavirus Research: Creating Options for Our Sickest COVID-19 Patients

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

When the first COVID-19 cases hit the University of Rochester Medical Center’s ICU back in March of 2020, there were no proven treatments available, but experimental therapies were cropping up around the world. Quickly, a team of URMC clinicians and researchers mobilized to bring the most promising clinical trials - that address the broadest swath of patients’ needs - to URMC. Since then, URMC has joined three clinical trials that provide extra treatment options for some of the sickest COVID-19 patients.

COVID-19 causes a wide range of outcomes: some infected people never show a single symptom, while many battle the disease for weeks in the ICU. The difference between those outcomes seems to lie in a careful balance of the immune response. In the beginning of the disease, the immune system helps fight off the virus. But for those who land in the hospital, this early, helpful immune response gives way to uncontrolled over-activation of the immune system, causing system-wide inflammation and severe complications.

The three COVID-19 inpatient clinical trials currently running at URMC attack the disease at both ends of this balance.

“Our goal has always been to promote effective therapies through clinical trials,” said Martin Zand, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean for Clinical Research and co-director of the Clinical & Translational Science Institute. “Our team is working hard to make sure that the trials we bring to URMC have the greatest chance of benefiting our own patients, and significantly advancing the science of COVID-19 to benefit patients around the world.”

Quieting Inflammation at All Ages

While researchers have high hopes that baricitinib can quell the over-exuberant immune activity of COVID-19, that trial is only open to patients who are 18 years old and up. Another trial, sponsored by Incyte Corp, is testing a very similar drug, called ruxolitinib, in patients as young as 12 who have very severe COVID-19 disease and need to be on a ventilator.

When the immune system runs amok in the late stages of COVID-19, the lining of the lungs can become leaky, allowing fluid to build up in the lungs’ air sacs. This phenomenon, called acute respiratory distress syndrome, starves the body of oxygen and mechanical ventilation can even fail to rescue these patients.

The URMC team, led by Christopher Palma, M.D. and Steve Georas, M.D., expects to enroll up to 20 severely ill COVID-19 patients in the trial to see if ruxolitinib can keep them alive and get them off ventilators and out of the ICU sooner.

Read More: Coordinating Coronavirus Research: Creating Options for Our Sickest COVID-19 Patients

Paige Lawrence Named Deputy Editor at Environmental Health Perspectives

Thursday, July 2, 2020

On 16 June 2020, EHP welcomed three Deputy Editors, Dana Boyd Barr, Manolis Kogevinas, and Paige Lawrence, on their first official day of service in their new positions. Editor-in-Chief (EIC) Joel Kaufman, MD, MPH, introduced the new Deputy Editor role and named the appointees in a recent webinar with the Board of Associate Editors

As recognized leaders in their respective disciplines of exposure science, environmental epidemiology, and experimental toxicology, the Deputy Editors will act as ambassadors to colleagues in their scientific communities to ensure that EHP continues to publish the most influential environmental health research. With a wealth of leadership, editorial, and peer review experience at EHP and other journals, the new Deputy Editors are expected to complement existing editorial workflows. 

Working closely with the EIC and EHP Science Editors, they will evaluate new and revised manuscripts, participate in triage and interim editorial decisions, and collaborate with Associate Editors to oversee peer review. The Deputy Editors will also provide leadership for the consideration of submissions in their areas of expertise.

The new Deputy Editor role represents the next step in changes to the journal’s operating structure that began when Joel assumed the EIC role in February 2020. As the first offsite EIC, Joel maintains his faculty position at the University of Washington while serving the journal. 

Read More: Paige Lawrence Named Deputy Editor at Environmental Health Perspectives

2020 Tox Student Awards Announced

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Although our annual Retreat and Awards Banquet were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we would still like to acknowledge the excellent work of our trainees.  Please congratulate this year’s recipients of the Toxicology Training Program awards:

Weiss Toxicology Scholar awards:  Timothy Anderson (pre-doctoral); Thivanka Muthumalage, PhD (post-doctoral)

Tim is a student in Dr. Deborah Cory-Slechta’s laboratory.  He is studying the toxicokinetics of paraquat that is delivered via inhalation exposure and its associated neurobehavioral effects.  This work has important implications for commonly-used agricultural pesticides. Thivanka is mentored by Dr. Irfan Rahman and studies cellular stress responses and lung injury following exposures to e-cigarette aerosols or specific components that are used in vaping.  Both of these individuals are engaged, highly productive young scientists and exhibit strong leadership inside and outside of their respective laboratories.

Robert N. Infurna award for best scientific publication:  Christina Post (pre-doctoral); Qixin Wang, PhD (post-doctoral)

Post CM, Boule LA, Burke CG, O'Dell CT, Winans B, Lawrence BP. The ancestral environment shapes antiviral CD8+ T cell responses across generations. iScience. 20:168-183, 2019.

This paper describes transgenerational impacts of an environmental toxicant, TCDD, on innate and adaptive immunity. This work was a complex, large undertaking and has significant implications for the way that we think about who is impacted by environmental exposures.

Wang Q, Khan NA, Muthumalage T, Lawyer GR, McDonough SR, Chuang TD, Gong M, Sundar IK, Rehan VK, Rahman I.  Dysregulated repair and inflammatory responses by E-cigarette-derived inhaled nicotine and humectant propylene glycol in a sex-dependent manner in mouse lung.  FASEB Bioadv 1(10): 609-623, 2019.

This paper combines in vivo and in vitro approaches to characterize the impact of e-cigarette vapors in the lungs upon acute inhalation exposure.  In addition to demonstrating the pro-inflammatory effects of nicotine in lung, which is not new, it also demonstrates that the commonly-used solvent (humectant) has its own effects.  It is comprehensive and timely.

Neuman award for exemplary scholarship and citizenship: Ashley Peppriell

Ashley is a mentored by Dr. Matt Rand and is studying the impacts on muscle development of methyl mercury exposure in a Drosophila model.  In addition to working hard and making great strides in the laboratory, Ashley is a volunteer extraordinaire!  She co-led the annual retreat planning team for two years, has served as a teaching assistant, is a peer mentor, and is a great ambassador for the Program.  She certainly exhibits the high level of scholarship and citizenship that defined the lives and careers of Drs. Margaret and William Neuman.

Best Question awards:  Janine Cubello and Ashley Fields

It was a tough call, so we decided to give out two awards this year!  Janine is mentored by Dr. Margot Mayer-Pröschel and studies the effects of combined lead exposure and iron deficiency on the developing brain.  Ashley’s mentor is Dr. Martha Susiarjo and her project is focused on the impact of vitamin B6 deficiency on pregnancy outcomes in the context of diabetes mellitus.


Ian Krout wins second place in the 2020 CPD/UR BEST poster competition!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Ian’s virtual poster was presented last month as part of the competition, which was judged by a broad faculty pool.  The title of the poster is "Establishing Tools to Investigate the Role of Microbes in Modulating Methylmercury Toxicokinetics".  Please offer congratulations to Ian and his co-authors, Daria Vorojeikina, Tom Scrimale, and Matt Rand.

URMC research uncovers links between COVID-19 and vaping, smoking

Monday, June 29, 2020

Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center has found evidence of why COVID-19 is worse for people who smoke and vape than for the rest of the population.

Irfan Rahman, who runs a lab at URMC that studies the effects of tobacco products on the lungs, said people who smoke and vape often have elevated levels of receptors for an enzyme called ACE2.

Those receptors also allow the novel coronavirus to enter lung cells. More receptors means more viral load, which means more severe infections, Rahman said.

“It’s pretty bad, actually,” he said.

Rahman said early evidence from novel coronavirus infections showed that smokers were particularly at risk from COVID-19, but the mechanism behind the vulnerability was unclear.

Now, Rahman and other researchers said, a growing body of evidence shows inhaling nicotine increases the lungs’ receptiveness to the virus and the lethality of the disease.

Other articles on this topic:,gain%20entry%20to%20the%20lungs.&text=Those%20receptors%20also%20allow%20the%20novel%20coronavirus%20to%20enter%20lung%20cells.

Read More: URMC research uncovers links between COVID-19 and vaping, smoking

Kadijah Abston receives this year’s Elon Huntington Hooker dissertation fellowship

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The department is excited to share the news that Kadijah Abston, MS – a fourth-year student working in Dr. Xin Li’s laboratory – has been selected to receive this year’s University of Rochester Elon Huntington Hooker dissertation fellowship.  Mr. Hooker was a graduate of the University and served as one of its trustees after founding the Hooker Chemical Company.  The award is given to support student researchers who are primarily focused on chemistry or biochemistry.  In her graduate work, Kadijah is exploring the novel hypothesis that lead can impact brain development across multiple generations via epigenetic modulations that are manifest at the level of DNA methylation changes and/or changes in small non-coding RNAs that get transmitted via the male line.  This work will provide foundational knowledge about paternal information that gets transmitted across the generations and has implications regarding the broad human health impact of a wide-spread environmental toxicant.


Please congratulate Kadijah and Xin when you see them!

Rahman Lab Highlighted in Nature

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Rahman lab has been highlighted in Nature journal for their work on discovery of exosomes in COPD. Read the article.

URMC shares tips on safe cleaning and disinfecting

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

As the area continues its phased reopening, more people will be out and about.

So how do we stay safe and make sure we are not bringing the coronavirus home after being out in the community?

News10NBC's Samantha LaRocca attended a virtual briefing with the University of Rochester Medical Center about safe disinfecting during the pandemic.

URMC experts shared the best way to safely disinfect your homes, your groceries and the products that most effective against the COVID-19 virus.

“Cleaning agents for one thing for surfaces potentially shouldn't necessarily be mixed together at all in most situations and shouldn't be applied to the skin,” Dr. Timothy Wiegand said.

“It’s a real issue and something that is happening here and you want to make sure that people use cleaners safely and avoid hurting themselves or their children,” Dr. Katrina Korfmacher said.

So what should we use at home or what can we make at home to help disinfect?

“Using bleach because properly diluted can be an effective disinfectant, especially if people are having trouble getting to the store or getting supplies because a lot of disinfectants are in short supply,” Dr. Korfmacher said. “Knowing how to properly dilute and use bleach as a disinfectant can be a good strategy. Also using more than 70% alcohol or hydrogen peroxide for different kinds of surfaces can be appropriate.”

If you are to make your own product the key is making sure the concentration is appropriate.

“Most of the guidelines you will see 1/3 of a cup of bleach per gallon of cool water,” Dr. Korfmacher said. “We actually encourage people to think of a teaspoon and a cup. And that is because it's a really small amount and it's really important to use the bleach solution within 24 hours after you make it, because it starts to degrade after that.”

Read More: URMC shares tips on safe cleaning and disinfecting

Tom Mariani Receives Andy Tager Award for Excellence in Mentoring

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Please congratulate Tom Mariani, who is this year’s recipient of the Andy Tager Award for Excellence in Mentoring!

Tom’s dedication to scientific inquiry into lung biology, and his enduring effort to lift all boats with a rising tide made him the perfect fit for this award!

"Assembly on Respiratory Cell & Molecular Biology Andy Tager Award for Excellence in Mentoring"

Dr. Andy Tager was a remarkable physician scientist who combined his talent as an astute and caring physician, with that of a creative and insightful scientist, and with a lifelong dedication to helping others. Dr. Tager received multiple national awards for his discovery of bioactive lipids as potential targets of therapy in interstitial pulmonary fibrosis and distinguishing himself as one of the few to fulfill the dream of taking his work from bench to bedside. He was a selfless mentor to trainees and colleagues at his home institution, caring for the careers of those he was mentoring at least as much as his own. Less obvious to others, through his many leadership roles at ATS, Dr. Tager helped promote the professional careers ATS of members, particularly the RCMB Assembly, from all over the world. The Andy Tager Award for Excellence in Mentoring is our tribute to the brilliant, caring man, whose selfless dedication touched so many hearts, in more ways than one.”

Earth Day: Coronavirus clears the air in Rochester and beyond

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Across the planet, COVID-19 is doing one thing to help people breathe easier: it’s curbing driving. People have been ordered to stay at home as much as possible and many of the places they’d drive to or take buses to have been temporarily shut down.

The dramatic decline in traffic has led to an equally dramatic decrease in nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant linked almost exclusively to fossil fuel combustion. Researchers have documented the likely link in China, Italy, and parts of the United States.

The trend is also playing out in greater Rochester, where state stay-at-home orders have thinned out traffic on area roads.

Lee Murray, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester, said the area’s nitrogen dioxide emissions in March were 40 percent lower than they were in March 2019, based on measurements taken by the European Space Agency’s TROPOMI satellite.

Nitrogen dioxide is “a really good local indicator of fossil fuel combustion and most of that is from gasoline burning,” Murray said. “The reason that we're seeing so much NO2 plummeting is because people are pretty much just not driving anywhere."

The satellite data aligns with nitrogen dioxide measurements from a pair of state Department of Environmental Conservation air quality monitoring stations in Rochester, one of which is located along the westbound side of Route I-490, just before the Culver Road on-ramp. Murray tracks those measurements and said the March average measurement of 6 parts per billion was roughly 30 percent lower than the March 2019 average measurement of 9 parts per billion.

Read More: Earth Day: Coronavirus clears the air in Rochester and beyond

As Vaping-Related Illnesses Rise, Researchers Search for Answers

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Electronic cigarettes have been around for over a decade, but that’s a relatively short time in the world of science and medicine. So very little is known about the long term health effects, like what the flavors and propellants may be doing to the respiratory system. 

But as research picks up on that, what’s even more pressing right now, is understanding the vaping products people are getting on the streets that is making them sick and even causing deaths. 

Pulmonary scientist Irfan Rahman has been studying the impact of electronic cigarettes on the lungs. We followed him to a vape shop in Rochester, NY. He often visits many of the stores surrounding his lab at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Rahman’s team has found and published research that shows the combination of nicotine, flavors and propellants in e-juices changes cells in the lungs. “Anything [that] goes in the lung, it has to be pure. It has to be fresh,” said Rahman, “[the] lung is not meant for these chemicals.”

There is a growing body of research like this, showing that while vaping may be less harmful to the body than smoking, it’s not exactly safe because it may affect the lungs’ ability to protect against foreign agents.

Dr. Ronald Crystal, chairman of Genetics at Weill Cornell Medicine did a small study with non-smokers, who have never vaped, and gave them electronic cigarettes with a very small amount of nicotine.

“There were biologic changes. And what's clear is that if you vape, then you are going to change the biology of the cells lining your airways. Of course, the important question is, does that lead to this disease?” said Crystal. “Nicotine itself probably changes the biology of the airway cells. But probably more concerning are the contaminants and that is the flavoring that goes into [the vaping liquid], the propellants that go into it.”

Read More: As Vaping-Related Illnesses Rise, Researchers Search for Answers

Researchers at URMC applaud federal vape ban, hope for further restrictions

Friday, January 3, 2020

As the federal Food and Drug Administration announced an impending ban on certain types of e-cigarettes, researchers at the University of Rochester applauded the move, but they also said it should only be the start of more regulations.

“It’s a great decision,” said Irfan Rahman, who runs a lab at URMC that studies the liquids used in e-cigarettes to figure out exactly what they contain.

“It should be a gateway to banning other products,” he continued.

The ban will cover only certain types of e-cigarettes. Starting next month, companies will not be allowed to sell flavored vaping cartridges that contain nicotine -- with exceptions for tobacco and menthol flavors.

The rules also carve out an exception for larger “open-tank” e-cigarettes where customers fill the reservoirs with vaping liquid themselves.

The FDA, which funds much of Rahman’s research, said the ban is targeting the vaping products most often used by teenagers and young adults. Rahman agreed, noting that the ban covers the flavors he encounters regularly in his analysis of the substances young people are vaping, such as bubble gum, candy or mango. “There are so many of them,” he said.

“They look like they are fruit juices, but they are not. They are chemicals which look they are safe, but they are not safe.”

Read More: Researchers at URMC applaud federal vape ban, hope for further restrictions

Vaping Linked to Higher Risk of Self-Reported COPD Diagnosis

Thursday, January 2, 2020

A new study reveals an elevated risk of self-reported chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — the third leading cause of death associated with smoking — among people using e-cigarettes. People who vaped were at increased risk even if they had never smoked tobacco, which casts doubt on e-cigarette companies’ claims that vaping is a safe alternative to smoking. 

According to the study, people who vaped were at a 47-percent greater risk of self-reported COPD diagnosis as compared to people in the study who did not use tobacco products. Compared to ex-smokers, people who had quit smoking and switched to e-cigarettes were 27 percent more likely to report a COPD diagnosis.

The study, published by Nicotine and Tobacco Research, is based on 2016 and 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) national survey data of nearly one million adults. Survey participants were asked whether they had ever been diagnosed with COPD by their health-care provider.

Authors of the study, which was funded in part by the University of Rochester Clinical and Translational Science Institute (UR CTSI), the National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration, are Zidian Xie, Ph.D., Deborah J Ossip, Ph.D.Irfan Rahman, Ph.D. and Dongmei Li, Ph.D.

“It is clear, based on the large sample size of this study, that there is a significant link between vaping and self-reported COPD diagnosis in adults, even among vapers who never smoked before,” said lead study author Zidian Xie.

Senior study author Dongmei Li, an associate professor in the UR CTSI, added, “More long-term clinical research is needed to determine how e-cigarette use is related to COPD, but our findings are consistent with other recent studies showing that e-cigarette use is associated with respiratory issues.”

“This study provides further evidence that vaping simply isn’t safe,” said Deborah Ossip, a tobacco research expert and professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “We hope that people begin to heed this message, especially young people who think vaping is cool and who are enticed by the thousands of available flavors.”

Recent statistics from the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention’s National Youth Tobacco Survey demonstrated the popularity of vaping among young people in the U.S. About one of every 10 middle school students and one out of four high school students reported in 2019 that they used electronic cigarettes.

Read More: Vaping Linked to Higher Risk of Self-Reported COPD Diagnosis

Irfan Rahman Awarded Lifetime Achievement Award at NCSCA 2019

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Dean's Professor of Environmental Medicine, Irfan Rahman, Ph.D., was awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award by the executive committee of the NCSCA-2019 at the 11th National Conference On Solid State Chemistry And Allied Areas (NCSCA-2019), December 20, 2019. Congratulations Dr. Rahman!

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