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New University of Wyoming research finds that vaping can cause cardiac failure

A man holding a vape pen blows moisture from it into the air.

Vaping and e-cigarettes have increased in popularity in recent years, largely due to the misconception that they are healthier than cigarettes. University of Wyoming researcher Guanglong He is looking into how vaping can cause cardiac failure. Wyoming Public Radio’s Taylar Stagner talked with He about his ongoing research.

Guanglong He: Vaping, no matter how you vape it, hot or cold, the medium… you can heat the liquid, or you can use the cold liquid, no matter what forms of vaping, it causes detrimental effects to [the] cardio and pulmonary systems in a specific way. We spent over a year trying to figure out through some modern molecular mechanism approaches, and we found that vaping actually affects both heart and lungs, in terms of a pulmonary effect. So, vaping basically induces fibrosis in the lungs, which will cause a barrier for the oxygen to deliver the heart, to the system.

So that is so detrimental. And in the heart, not only [can] the vaping affect the pulmonary part of that signaling, but also [it] can affect the function of the heart. And by itself, we found that actually vaping and chronic vaping can induce heart failure and specifically, the pumping of the heart is reduced in capacity.

So that is the major finding along those lines. And in addition, [we] try to understand what is the underlying causes or the mechanisms causing these cardiopulmonary injuries we found to our human system.

We have an immune response. The immune response can sometimes act as a foe to ourselves because they treat all these vaping particles, aerosols, in our system as foreigners, as invaders. So, the amount of immune response is tied to clearing the xenobiotics.

However, at the same time, it affects our own body. So that is also very important to the understanding of cardiopulmonary injury in our system.

Taylar Stagner: Can you talk about the increase in the usage of e-cigarettes?

GH: The usage of e-cigarettes has been increasing due to the fact that it's more attractive to the young generations with the flexibility of adding different flavors. In terms of the flavors, you know, you name it, all kinds of flavors. Traditional tobacco flavors and methanol and even fruit flavors, they turned out all these flavors and [it] attract[s] more users there. Especially the young generation.

The assumption that comes with the creation of this e-cigarette vaping is that vaping is less harmful. Of course, that will contribute to the popularity. Also, some think that vaping helps to quit tobacco smoking. And that is another factor in the equation. And most likely the reason behind the increase in the use of e-cigarettes is all these kinds of, the added addictive, popular design and the flavors.

TS: Lots of people think of the danger to the lungs when it comes to vaping. You found it is doing damage to the heart. Is there a chance there are other parts of the body this is affecting?

GH: I would say it, in general, it will affect the whole system. But the reason I say that is that even though the lungs are the frontline to take on the damage, the aerosols get inhaled into the lungs. However, the chemicals get transmitted through the blood system, to the heart, and to the general circulatory system. And if our bloodstream is filled with some of the toxicants, you can imagine that all these chemicals will get delivered to all parts of the body.

Potentially it could affect diabetes, wound healing, and neuro-related issues. And that's another big story. We have colleagues in the School of Pharmacy focus[ing] on that aspect of the damage. In general, it affects other parts of the body in terms of function and injury.

TS: What are the next steps for you and your department?

GH: The goal of the research, the project that we're doing here, is mainly four steps. First of all, try to bring to the public attention that vaping is dangerous, and is as dangerous as traditional smoking. And we should not treat it lightly, or treat it as a substitute or treat it as a less damaging way of vaping. So, that is the first goal.

And if we find specifically the underlying mechanism, our potential goal is to come up with therapeutic interventions. Because persuading the public to stop smoking, which is ongoing, that is beyond the scope of the research itself, scientific effort. However, we do want you to know that if the public in general will stop smoking, that is the best.

However, if not, for those smokers with years of smoking history, how do we overcome all these damages? And that is the sole part of that from School of Pharmacy, College of Health Sciences, we want to develop therapeutic innovations, say, toward the lungs toward the heart, trying to minimize the damage. At the same time, helping to support the public to understand that we need to quit this dangerous behavior.

Taylar Dawn Stagner is a central Wyoming rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has degrees in American Studies, a discipline that interrogates the history and culture of America. She was a Native American Journalist Association Fellow in 2019, and won an Edward R. Murrow Award for her Modern West podcast episode about drag queens in rural spaces in 2021. Stagner is Arapaho and Shoshone.

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