California Graduate Student Receives $90,000 Fellowship for E-Cig Study

Electronic cigarettes are becoming more mainstream with each passing day. While it used to be rare to see someone vaping at the mall or in your neighborhood café, it’s now an ordinary scene. While e-cigarettes are not directly advertised as a tool for smoking cessation, that seems to be the most common reason that people choose to use them. Critics insist that more research is needed to determine if e-cigarettes are truly a good alternative for tobacco users. The good news is that a huge research study is about to begin. The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a graduate student a $90,000 fellowship to study the effects of electronic cigarettes on a cellular level.

Rachel Behar is in her third year of graduate studies at the University of California Riverside. Her focus is on Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology. The $90,000 fellowship award from NIH will completely fund her tuition and living expenses for the remainder of her studies in the UCR graduate program. The fellowship will also provide the funding for critical research about the cytotoxic effects of e-cigarettes. While there have already been some small studies done in this area, more research is certainly needed and welcomed by the e-cigarette community.

Behar intends to begin her research by examining the cellular toxicity of electronic cigarette vapor. Then she wants to look further into how e-cig vapor affects embryonic cells. This aspect of her research project is monumental because it could have a big impact on pregnant smokers who are curious about whether e-cigs would be a safe alternative to tobacco. If the study shows that e-cig vapor isn’t harmful to embryonic cells, then this would indicate that vaping can at least offer a positive option to expectant mothers who cannot stop using nicotine.

In order to get an accurate look at how e-cigs impact human cells, Behar told UCR Today, “I will isolate chemicals in the most cytotoxic aerosols and test them on human embryonic stem cells to mimic exposure during early stages of development.” She plans to study a wide range of flavoring agents to see how the different components of popular e-liquids will affect the cell cultures.

Prue Talbot will act as Behar’s advisor during the research process. Talbor is the director of the UCR Stem Cell Center and she said, “A lot of people are switching to e-cigarettes as smoking cessation devices. A significant percentage of pregnant women are interested in trying these devices as alternatives to cigarette smoking.

The NIH fellowship is Behar’s fourth award related to e-cigarette research. Three fellow students will assist her in the project while Dr. Talbot supervises.

Do you expect that Behar will find any negative impact of e-cigarettes on embryonic cells?

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Author Focus: Katie Bercham
Katie actually had a negative first experience of electronic cigarettes, picking up a cheap and horrible model from my local mall. Thanks to a chance meeting with co-editor David, she hasn’t had a tobacco cigarette in over 2 years. She brings a strong female voice to the e-cig community... Read Full Profile >