What does it take to outwit rising rates of smoking, vaping and cannabis use? Bold, brave research! Our investigators are involved in projects that cover all the bases, from studying how these substances affect the lungs, to how addictions work, to how to implement real-world cessation techniques.
Below, you’ll learn more about the smoking, vaping or cannabis research projects we are currently funding.
Interested in applying for a research grant? Learn about our opportunities here.
Table of Contents
Dr. Drew Marquardt
Vaping-Associated Lung Injury: Insight into Mechanisms of Action
Lung injury can occur in people who vape. This injury is caused by toxic products. The symptoms from these products can be anywhere between shortness of breath to very serious lung damage. It is not well known how exactly these toxic products cause lung disease or injury. We also do not really understand how it develops either. But we do know of one big reason that appears to be the cause of this lung injury.
The objectives of our project are to 1) to validate Lung-in-a-Dish as a relevant “test-tube experiment” for assessing human lung function, and toxicity; and 2) to understand how the toxic products cause lung damage and injury.
We will test that our new, 3D-printed human lung model captures key features of lung functions that mimic a real lung. With our 3D-Lung-in-a-Dish, we will use specialize experiments that specifically look at the surface of the Lung-in-a-Dish and how it moves with breathing. These measurements will show us how a specific vitamin effects the stability of the lungs. We will confirm that the disruption of the lung’s integrity is the cause of lung injuries due to e-cigarette and vaping.
Our study offers a new look into a how the e-cigarettes and vaping cause shortness of breath and other lung issues. Without our work, this lung condition would have only been studied at the cellular level using traditional cellular approaches. These approaches overlook any mechanical or machine-like aspect of the lungs. Our work has elevated the study of a fundamental biological process that cell biologists would otherwise not even consider as a possibility. Our physical observations using a 3D-printed human lung tissue has been rated by our peers as “impressive, innovative, very relevant, and timely.”
These timely studies will provide new and important information revealing the mechanism of vaping caused lung injury and potential weakness to more serious conditions; COVID-19 for example. Lung injuries caused by e-cigarettes and vaping affects mostly youth and people under 35, the age group thought to be least vulnerable to COVID-19.
Our easy-to-use, human-relevant Lung-in-a-Dish will accelerate future studies on human-specific lung infections and diseases. The Lung-in-a-Dish will also have applications in screening and evaluation of drug and vaccine candidates, and for chemical safety testing where serious inhalation toxicity is a potential hazard for the use of chemicals and consumer products.
Dr. Miranda Kirby
Computed Tomography Imaging of Lung Structure in Cannabis Users
Smoke is harmful to lung health. Similar to smoking tobacco, the lungs are the first point of contact in people that smoke cannabis. In small studies that had cannabis smokers undergo a bronchoscopy – a medical test that passes a thin tube into the lungs, the doctors were able to see damage to the large airways, to the vessels that supply oxygen the body, as well as damage and destruction of the lung tissue in cannabis smokers. The damage observed in the lungs of cannabis smokers may explain why many experience the same symptoms as tobacco smokers, like frequent cough, phlegm production and wheezing. Recently, newer imaging tools allow the internal structure of the lung to be studied in more detail. More research is needed to look inside the lungs in people that smoke cannabis to investigate and better understand the changes that may occur.
The objective of this project is to use computed tomography (CT) imaging to study the lung structure in people that smoke cannabis. Using these images, we will extract information related to the structure of the airways, vessels and lung tissue. We will also develop new ways to extract a large amount of information from the images that might not be visible to our eye, but may reflect early damage to the lung.
We will recruit research participants from an existing social media cohort study that includes a large number of young (18-24 years of age) cannabis users and nonusers. We will focus on those users that smoke cannabis regularly and report daily or almost daily cannabis use. The participants will be given questionnaires related to their symptoms, perform breathing tests to measure their lung function, and perform a CT scan to create images of their lung structure. With these CT images, we will generate many measurements related to the structure of their airways, vessels and lung tissue. Using machine learning techniques, we compare these measurements between cannabis users and nonusers, and determine there are differences between cannabis users and nonusers in CT lung structure.
Cannabis has been recently legalized in Canada. This study will be unique because we will be able to recruit people from the population that can freely report their cannabis use. Our study will also be unique because we will use imaging to study the impact of cannabis smoking on the lung tissue, airways and vessels. In other studies that used medical imaging to study the impact of cannabis smoking on the lungs, only CT lung tissue measurements were included. An innovative part of our study will be the new imaging measurements we develop that will be designed specifically to find any differences that exist in the lungs in cannabis users.
With a large number of Canadians already reporting cannabis use 1-year after legalization, it is important that we understand the impact of cannabis smoking on lung structure. Given that most cannabis users are young, a small negative impact on health as a result of cannabis use could have huge socioeconomic consequences for Canada. Our research findings will provide the data needed to guide policy and educate people to make informed decisions to protect their lung health.