In preparation for the May seminar, please take our quick survey on your knowledge, perception and clinical experience with e-cigarettes.

Participation in the survey is not required to attend the seminar.

In addition to our regular CRI Activities Update, this month’s Research Focus highlights collaborative work from the team led by Ilona Jaspers, PhD; Professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology/Immunology and Environmental Science/Engineering; Deputy Director, Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology; Director, Curriculum in Toxicology.

Activities Update: The Mary Ellen Jones building renovation continues to remain on target with the expected completion to be in the fall of 2018 and planned move beginning in 2019. Occupants will move in from the top of the building down, meaning that the Department of Pediatrics basic science researchers and CRI administration office will be among the last of the people moving into the new space. This month we were excited to meet with pediatric research labs who will be occupying the space to select furniture arrangements and discuss remaining details for the move.

This past month we continued to work on efficiencies for our pediatric clinical trials initiative, including compiling standard training requirements for newly hired study coordinators, developing a feasibility assessment tool to help guide decisions on what trials to pursue, and meeting with clinical trialists to identify additional tracking tools, resourcing allocation methods, and process models. This month we also hired Ashley Hill into a permanent full-time study coordinator position. She has been working with us in a temporary position and has quickly come up to speed in her duties across several clinical trials spanning different pediatric divisions. Ashley holds a MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and has interned on both the east and west coasts, and abroad, before coming to UNC. Be sure to congratulate Ashley on her transition when you see her.

Finally, we continue to meet as part of our Pediatrics Scholars Program (PSP) with our junior faculty who are transitioning onto K and R funding to discuss timelines, Individual Development Plans and next steps. The CRI provides process mentorship as well as experienced feedback on what funding mechanisms best suits the physician-scientist’s current research and identifies additional mentors to provide additional guidance. The PSP aligns with other mentorship services provided by the Department of Pediatrics and UNC to further support the retention and growth of pediatric physician-scientists.

Reminder: The CRI is co-hosting our next luncheon research seminar series with the UNC Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility (CEHS), featuring Ilona Jaspers, PhD.  Dr. Jaspers is presenting “Vaping: Perspectives of an Inhalation Toxicologist Who Is Also a Mother of Teenagers” on Tuesday, May 8 at 12:15-1:30 pm in the Bioinformatics Auditorium (room 1131). Please mark your calendars. We look forward to seeing you there.

Research Focus of the MonthThis month, we are excited to feature the research of Ilona Jaspers, PhD; Professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology/Immunology and Environmental Science/Engineering; Deputy Director, Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology; Director, Curriculum in Toxicology.

Ilona Jaspers, PhD

The number one cause of worldwide preventable morbidity and mortality continues to be from cigarette use or exposure [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services]. Smoking rates in the USA continue to decline; however, use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, is becoming popular, especially amongst teenagers. E-cigarettes can appear like traditional cigarettes or cigars, while others can resemble ballpoint pens or USB devices, also called JUULs. Use of e-cigarettes is also referred to as vaping, as the aerosol has an appearance similar to water vapor. Although e-cigarettes are often advertised as a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco, most still contain nicotine and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the respiratory system. Little is known about the immediate and long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, making the research done by Dr. Jaspers and others in her field truly pioneering. Dr. Jaspers has a long-standing research interest in the way environmental pollutants can modify respiratory immune responses and enhance susceptibility to microbial infections. Currently, the Jaspers Lab is using human in vitro and in vivo translational models to understand whether long-term use or exposure to e-cigarettes has immune suppressive effects on human respiratory mucosa. In particular, her research has recently focused on analyzing how markers of immune responses in the respiratory tract may be altered in response to e-cigarette exposure.

A research effort led by Dr. Jaspers revealed decreased immune-related gene expression in the nasal mucosa of e-cigarette users and cigarette smokers as compared to nonsmokers, with more enhanced changes seen in e-cigarette users [Martin, EM et al]. Recent studies, published by Dr. Kesimer’s group in collaboration with Dr. Jaspers as part of the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS) in the School of Medicine, showed that when compared to nonsmokers, e-cigarette users were found to have increased levels of inflammatory markers in induced sputum, which are also seen in respiratory diseases [Reidel, B et al]. Dr. Jaspers and her trainee, Dr. Clapp, have also found that cinnamaldehyde, which is used to give e-cigarettes a cinnamon flavor, compromises the immune function of cells of the respiratory tract [Clapp, PW et al].

Taken together, results from Dr. Jaspers and her collaborators are challenging the notion that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes.

Links to more information about Dr. Jaspers, her work and a selection of publications and sources are listed below.

Center for Tobacco Regulatory Science and Lung Health

Jaspers Lab

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

Rebuli ME, Pawlak EA, Walsh D, Martin EM, Jaspers I. Distinguishing Human Peripheral Blood NK Cells from CD56(dim)CD16(dim)CD69(+)CD103(+) Resident Nasal Mucosal Lavage Fluid Cells. Sci Rep. 2018 Feb 21;8(1):3394. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-21443-5. PubMed PMID: 29467466; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5821812.

Reidel B, Radicioni G, Clapp PW, Ford AA, Abdelwahab S, Rebuli ME, Haridass P, Alexis NE, Jaspers I, Kesimer M. E-Cigarette Use Causes a Unique Innate Immune Response in the Lung, Involving Increased Neutrophilic Activation and Altered Mucin Secretion. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2018 Feb 15;197(4):492-501. doi:10.1164/rccm.201708-1590OC. PubMed PMID: 29053025; PubMed Central PMCID:PMC5821909.

Clapp PW, Jaspers I. Electronic Cigarettes: Their Constituents and Potential Links to Asthma. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2017 Oct 5;17(11):79. doi:10.1007/s11882-017-0747-5. Review. PubMed PMID: 28983782.

Clapp PW, Pawlak EA, Lackey JT, Keating JE, Reeber SL, Glish GL, Jaspers I. Flavored e-cigarette liquids and cinnamaldehyde impair respiratory innate immune cell function. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2017 Aug 1;313(2):L278-L292. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00452.2016. Epub 2017 May 11. PubMed PMID: 28495856; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5582929.

Martin EM, Clapp PW, Rebuli ME, Pawlak EA, Glista-Baker E, Benowitz NL, Fry RC, Jaspers I. E-cigarette use results in suppression of immune and inflammatory-response genes in nasal epithelial cells similar to cigarette smoke. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2016 Jul 1;311(1):L135-44. doi:10.1152/ajplung.00170.2016. Epub 2016 Jun 10. PubMed PMID: 27288488; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4967187.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014.