Researchers discover harmful effects of thirdhand smoking

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Manuela Martins-Green, a professor of cell biology at UC Riverside, and chair of the Department of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology, has led her team in researching the effects of thirdhand smoking, otherwise known as THS, and how it can affect the body in profound ways.

THS is when people are surrounded by clothing, items and interiors where tobacco smoke has been transferred into, which can include cars, household carpets and curtains. Through that, it can contaminate items that may seem innocuous until the effects begin to show.

Martins-Green started this research after talking with a pediatrician about their new data. “He had found that children who had lived in the homes of smokers had bad chemicals in their urine,” stated Martins-Green. “They were carcinogenic chemicals that would cause cancer.”

In spite of what the parents had to share about their careful smoking habits around their children, the chemicals in their cigarettes have been traced in their hair, clothing, car and furniture. This prompted the pediatrician and Martins-Green to believe “that the chemicals that go on the surfaces of the car, clothing, hair were making their way to the bodies of the kids.”

To help the pediatrician figure out how these carcinogenic chemicals arrive in the children’s body systems without any real exposure to the smoke through the use of mice, Martins-Green decided to execute an experimental study which she created about 4-5 years ago.

Dr. Martins-Green and her team conducted their research by the use of mice which had never been previously exposed to neither firsthand nor secondhand smoking. They then exposed them to fabrics of clothing and curtains with tobacco smoke to emulate the experience of a normal household, making sure to keep it proportional to a human household and record the effects it has on them for a period of up to 6 months through the use of biological molecular markers, or biomarkers, placed in serum, liver and brain tissues.

They discovered that, upon exposure, the mice had begun to show symptoms of inflammation. They discovered this after going through their blood, lungs, liver, muscles and urine, where they had used many biomarkers to examine the effects it has had on the physiological systems of the mice. Martins-Green explains, “these biological markers are pre-selected, not only to show that the mice has been exposed to smoke, but also how long they’ve (been) exposed to it. The more markers (there are), the more exposure (they have had).” In addition to seeing signs of inflammation, the biomarkers showed high levels of glucose and hyperactivity within the mice.

Dr. Martins-Green hopes to continue this research with other smoking paraphernalia such as e-cigarettes, which have drawn speculation for containing many harmful carcinogens akin to tobacco cigarettes. In addition, she hopes to expand on this study to validate her research with a proof of concept study. “If we can do a proof of concept study, which means if we can take these markers found in both existing mice and humans and show them being exposed to living in homes of people who smoke, then it would be a major advance.”

If her research becomes approved as a proof of concept study, parents can take these markers to pediatricians for them to evaluate their children’s blood. These markers would be able to detect chemicals in their blood as well as the amount of these chemicals present. These findings should offer helpful insight as to whether there are harmful carcinogens present in their environment that may be affecting their health.

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