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E-cigarette Vapour Tested on Human Airway Tissue and Found to be Equivalent to Breathing Fresh Air

by Steve Barrett

E-cigarette Vapour Tested on Human Airway Tissue and Found to be Equivalent to Breathing Fresh Air

It’s a breath of Fresh Air

This week saw the publication of results of an experiment to test the cytotoxic impact of e-cigarette vapour on human airway tissue. 

The tests performed by the MatTek Corporation; an organisation at the forefront of tissue engineering and world leader in the production of innovative 3D reconstructed tissue models, based in Massachusetts; was rigorous and has been hailed as a potential important step in developing product guidelines and galvanising public policy debates regarding vaping.

Schmokin' Hot Robots


e-cigarette vapour toxicology reults

The results found that after 6 hours of exposure to ordinary cigarette smoke - cells viability was reduced to just 12% (near complete cell death) while the cells exposed to 6 hours of e-cigarette vapour experienced no decrease in viability, i.e. they remained normal as if breathing in normal air. Cells exposed to breathing air were used as a control. 

A consortium of scientists from the MatTek Corporation and British American Tobacco used a unique combination of tests to investigate the potential adverse effects of e-cigarette vapour on airway tissue compared with cigarette smoke.

The report stated that: ‘E-cigarette vapour can contain nicotine, humectants, flavourings and thermal degradation products, so it is important to understand the potential impact on biological systems. Until now, there have been no aerosol studies of potential adverse effects of e-cigarette vapour on in vitro models that so closely mimic the structure, function and exposure of normal human airway tissue’.

Dr Marina Murphy, International Scientific Affairs Manager, BAT, highlighted the methods used: “By employing a combination of a smoking robot and a lab-based test using respiratory tissue, it was possible to demonstrate the ability to induce and measure aerosol irritancy and to show that the different e-cigarette aerosols used in this study have no cytotoxic effect on human airway tissue.”

Dr Marina MurphyThe scientists combined a commercially available 3D model of respiratory epithelial tissue and the popular ‘Vitrocell’ smoking robot, an aerosol exposure system, to assess the irritant potential of e-cigarette vapour from two commercially available e-cigarettes on human airway tissue. The results show that, despite hours of aggressive and continuous exposure, the impact of the e-cigarette vapour on the airway tissue is similar to that of air. Furthermore, the study represents an initial move towards socialising and debating potential industrial guidelines.

The airway tissue model - EpiAirway - comprises human tracheal/bronchial epithelial cells that have been cultured to form differentiated layers resembling epithelial tissue of the respiratory tract. The Vitrocell system mimics the exposure when humans inhale by delivering emissions from cigarettes or e-cigarettes or just air to the EpiAirway tissues. 

The ‘Smoking Robot’ is less like this:  and more like this:  and can record and catalogue results with complete accuracy. 

It’s Not A Hard Cell

Whilst it is perhaps a little disappointing that MatTek funded the research with the help of British American Tobacco – the results are conclusive and verified.

Cells were subjected to 6 hours of intensive ‘breathing’, with fresh air, used as the control, e-cigarette vapour and traditional cigarette smoke. Only the cells exposed to cigarette smoke were altered, with their functioning reduced to just 12% (complete cell death). The cells in the other two aggressive exposure tests were unaffected. 

Whilst further and extensive research will be welcomed by the e-cigarette and vaping industry bodies these results represent a massive leap forward in proving that e-cigarettes can have a revolutionary effect on diseases caused by toxic cigarette smoke; such as throat cancers, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

leo varadka

Health Ministers Leo Varadka and his UK counterpart Jeremy Hunt should embrace results from tests such as these as a valuable tool in making sensible and informed e-cigarette legislation in both Ireland and the UK.

The results were published in the Irish Press and heralded as a major success by medical professionals such as Dr Michael Siegel, Professor at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Boston.

Results were published in Toxicology In Vitro (12/07/2015) in the Science Direct online journal.




Steve Barrett
Steve Barrett

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