Drugs & Health Blog

Teen Researcher Asks: Why Do E-Cigs Harm the Lungs?

Photo courtesy of Natalia Orlovsky.

The NIDA Blog Team

Vaping can harm a person’s lungs, and a teen researcher wanted to find out exactly why that happens. The researcher, Natalia Orlovsky, made an important discovery—and won second place for her study in a national “science talent search.”

Natalia, who describes herself as an “everything nerd,” became interested in studying e-cigarettes when she noticed that they were becoming more popular. She was also inspired by a friend’s research on the dangers of e-cig flavoring.

Stressing the lungs

Natalia studied human lung cells in lab dishes to learn the effects of e-cig vapor that gets inhaled into the lungs. She found that the vapor switched on a cell “stress pathway” that’s also switched on by dangerous chemicals that are formed when coal, oil, gas, tobacco, or garbage are partially burned. (Pretty gross, right?)

Interestingly, she found the same result in e-cigs that don’t contain nicotine as in e-cigs with nicotine.

Next, she hopes to study how vaping affects other cell pathways in the lungs, and any other effects of chemicals that a person consumes when they vape.

Tips for teen scientists

With this study and her national prize, Natalia is already making her mark as a scientist. We asked her if she has advice for other teens interested in doing scientific research. She answered, “Start small! See what kinds of experiments you can perform at your own high school.”

She continued, “If your school doesn’t have the tools you need (for example, mine didn’t), there are lots of free summer research opportunities out there. Apply to as many as you can. Most importantly, remember to have fun with your work and to tackle questions that you find exciting!”

Natalia participated in an education program for high school students called the Teen Research and Education in Environmental Science (TREES) summer program. Her second-place award included a whopping prize of $175,000. Congratulations to Natalia—and to all the teen researchers who are making discoveries that could help people live healthier lives.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

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