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UNM scientist eyes vaping ills

Matthew Campen

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

It’s a mystery perplexing health officials across the country as hundreds of people developed serious lung disease after vaping.

A University of New Mexico scientist is among those searching for answers.

Matthew Campen, a professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, was part a team of researchers who recently published a study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation finding that vaping directly impairs lung function and the body’s ability to fight infections. The study indicates the fluid inside electronic cigarettes may be the culprit.

It is believed to be the first time the vaporized liquids were linked to lung disease, the researchers said in their article.

The study was done on mice. The rodents toked up on vapor with nicotine, vapor without nicotine and cigarette smoke. The research found that it was the vapor, regardless of whether any nicotine was present, that was damaging.

“The nicotine didn’t really cause the effects. It was the e-liquid with or without the nicotine,” Campen said in an interview.

Campen said the viscous fluid used in the study was made of vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol. Usually, a blend of the fluids is used after nicotine or a marijuana ingredient has been dissolved into it.

The research found that the vaporized liquid, when entering the lungs, was attacked by the body’s macrophages, white blood cells that “eat up” dust or bacteria, Campen said.

“There’s this slime … that is a fat chemical we’re not used to and (when it is inhaled) the macrophages try to chew that up,” he said. “They get overloaded with it, and they don’t know how to remove it or digest it like they would a natural product.”

That overload makes it harder for the body to fight off infections. In the case of the mice, it increased their mortality rate by 300% when they were exposed to influenza, he said.

The research, published earlier this month, had a timely release. Health officials across the country are looking into recent cases of people who developed serious and sometimes deadly conditions after vaping.

New Mexico has had 12 cases in which people were hospitalized after vaping, said Heidi Krapfl, an epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health.

Krapfl said that in 11 of the 12 local cases, the patients were vaping THC, which is in marijuana. In the other case, the patient was vaping nicotine. Health officials said that in the state’s THC-related cases the vaping liquids were purchased on the black market as opposed to a dispensary.

“The lung disease is presenting like an acute toxic lung injury,” Krapfl said. “It seems to be the substance that THC is dissolved in or the nicotine is dissolved.”

Nationally, hundreds of people have gotten sick. As of Thursday, the CDC said there had been 380 confirmed and probable cases of breathing illnesses connected with vaping in 36 states and one U.S. territory. Six people have died. The cases haven’t been linked to any single device, liquid or ingredient.

The New Mexico Health Department is advising people to avoid vaping THC.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that his administration will propose a ban on many flavors of e-cigarettes to combat underage vaping.

When it comes to vaping as an alternative to cigarettes, Campen said, the best course of action would be to quit both.


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