Conversation about whether or not e-cigarettes are a better alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes is a hot topic at the moment. Now, a new study shows that it could in fact be an unhealthy choice, especially for pregnant women. The study, published in Plos One, suggests e-cigarettes can cause craniofacial birth defects in frog embryos, with possible implications for human health.
Principal investigator Amanda Dickinson, an associate professor in the Department of Biology at Virginia Commonwealth University, explained that the goal of the study was to educate smokers about the health risks of vaping and to compel policymakers to impose warnings.
For the study, the team exposed frog embryos and mammalian neural crest cells to chemicals in e-cigarettes to test whether or not it caused birth defects. This animal was used due to frogs and humans having similar embryonic forms.
"This means that if a chemical perturbs a frog embryo, it's likely to do the same thing to a human embryo," Dickinson said in a statement.
Co-investigator René Olivares-Navarrete also notes that neural crest cells are great to perform tests on because of the part they play in embryonic facial development.
"Neural crest cells are extremely important in the development of craniofacial structures because they can form many different tissues like bones, cartilage, skin, teeth and glands," Olivares-Navarrete said.
After exposing the embryos to a saline-vapor mixture, the team took note of any changes to the facial features of the embryos. The outcomes showed that the chemicals did have an effect, with all the frogs developing cleft palates.
“We observed that very complex e-liquids that mix flavors, such as berries and crème and other food-related flavorings, may have the most dramatic effect on the face,” Dickinson said.
Whether this research translates to humans is yet to be tested by the team. They do, however, hope to move on to mouse models next year.
This isn’t the first time e-cigarettes have been reported to have serious health risks. Just last month, researchers from the University of North Carolina found higher levels of proteins linked to serious lung conditions in e-cigarettes. However, those e-cigarette smokers were previously cigarette smokers themselves, which made it difficult to clearly discern the results.
Dr Mehmet Kesimer, who led the team, shared that vapors are only just being studied properly now and that it could potentially be as bad as smoking regular cigarettes.
“Understanding if there is one or hundreds of molecules in e-cigarette vapor that negatively affect craniofacial development is a difficult task because the number of commercially available e-liquids is in the thousands.” Olivares-Navarrete said. “But finding these answers would give us a better understanding of the possible adverse effects of e-cigarettes.”