Electronic Cigarettes Impact on Lung Cells

Smoking tobacco is old news.

Now the medical community is worried about the health impact of popular electronic cigarettes. Unlike a tobacco cigarette, an e-cigarette is battery powered. The nicotine enters the lungs as a vapor. Major US communities like San Francisco and the state of Vermont are alarmed that Generation Z are becoming active users. Lead researchers actively study the affect of e-cigarettes on lung cells in attempt to provide a body of scientific evidence on the health implications. 


A research team at the NYU School of Medicine investigated how nicotine chemical transformation impacts human bronchial epithelial cells and DNA. They held in-vitro studies. Nicotine nitrosation is one chemical transformation that occurs. The nicotine can continue to transform into metabolite products that harm DNA. The DNA, along with proteins in the lung have difficulty fixing themselves after impact from nicotine and its metabolites. The metabolites hinder the usual performance of the proteins that help repair the DNA. As a step further, the metabolites can decompose these helpful proteins too! This is not good news. The cells become more vulnerable to mutations by three pathways — spontaneous, UV, and H2O2 actions. Additionally, the risk lingers that the cells can convert into cancer cells (Lee et al, 2018). This is just the beginning of insight into the chemistry behind e-cigarette vapor.

Cell Life and Death.

Material Research Engineers at Aston University in the UK evaluated cell toxicity in their in-nitro studies on tobacco cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapor. They co-cultured human bronchial epithelial cells and pulmonary fibroblasts to compare Marlboro cigarette smoke and Strawberry flavored e-cigarette vapor. One short term study was seven puffs. The results showed that the tobacco smoke had a more negative effect on cell life. In comparison, e-cigarette vapor reduced cell life during the longer term exposure of over three hours. The e-cigarette vapor also caused higher oxidative stress to the cells, but still lower than tobacco smoke. A few surprising results from e-cigarette vapor arose. The results do not align with trends observed from tobacco smoke. The first is that the e-cigarette vapor did not kill cells because of the capse activation pathway. The second is that the e-cigarettes led to more chemical mediators developing as a response to inflammation during cell damage (Bathrinarayanan et al, 2018).

In Vivo Human Data.

Experts at Weill Cornell Medical College performed an in vivo study with small airway epithelium cells. The cells were from ten people who have not smoked tobacco or electronic cigarettes before. They were selected as a healthy population. Seven of the participants randomly received nicotine while three participants received non-nicotine e-cigarettes labeled as Blu brand. They took ten puffs of the e-cigarettes, and then ten more puffs after 30 minutes in the short term study. To measure biological changes, the researchers analyzed the transcriptomes of the cells after exposure to the nicotine. They measured the total amount of RNA molecules in the cells. Findings uncovered that the typical lung balance is disrupted. The transcriptomes of small airway epithelium cells are altered. The inhalation of the vapor also activates the nicotine pathways (Staudt et al, 2018). The biology profile behind e-cigarette vapor is still unraveling.

Are e-cigarettes a safer choice?

E-cigarette research is still in its infancy. Continuing research with human lung cells can validate answers to this question. The scientific findings from the studies can potentially inform policies as they develop. To contribute to the growing body of research toward this major human health topic, Novabiosis can provide the human lung cells throughout the US and Canada.

Novabiosis offers Primary Human Lung Cells to support innovation in human health solutions.

The high quality cells can be easily incorporated into micropatterned and microfluidic devices for in vitro lung cell culture models. The cells are cryogen preserved, and the functionality of the cell types are stable for short term and long term studies. We offer a reliable, consistent supply of human cells for research in the US and Canada.


Bathrinarayanan, P. V., Brown, J. E. P., Marshall, L. J., Leslie, L. J. (2018). An investigation into E-cigarette cytotoxicity in-vitro using a novel 3D differentiated co-culture model of human airways, Toxicology in Vitro, 52, 255-264, ISSN 0887-2333. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tiv.2018.06.020

Lee, H. W., Park, S. H., Weng, M. W., Wang, H. T., Huang, W. C., Lepor, H., Wu, X. R., Chen, L. C., Tang, M. S. (2018). E-cigarette smoke damages DNA and reduces repair activity in mouse lung, heart, and bladder as well as in human lung and bladder cells. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(7) E1560-E1569. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1718185115 https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/115/7/E1560.full.pdf

Staudt, M. R., Salit, J., Kaner, R. J., Hollmann, C., Crystal, R. G. (2018). Altered lung biology of healthy never smokers following acute inhalation of E-cigarettes. Respiratory Research, 19(78).https://doi.org/10.1186/s12931-018-0778-z