Jun 13, 2017 | By Julia

Researchers at the University of Connecticut (UConn) are pioneering the use of a new 3D printed testing device that can measure DNA damage. Their first application with the breakthrough gadget? Testing the effects of electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, in a new study that has yielded some game-changing, but not altogether unexpected, results.

Using their new, low-cost testing device, a team of UConn chemists found that e-cigarettes are potentially as harmful as unfiltered cigarettes in terms of DNA damage. Even non-nicotine e-cigarettes cause as much DNA damage as filtered cigarettes, the UConn study found, possibly due to the numerous chemical additives contained in e-cigarette vapor. Needless to say, cellular mutations caused by DNA damage can lead to cancer and other life-threatening complications.

Published in the scientific journal ACS Sensors, the UConn study featured the successful application of a new 3D printed testing device capable of quickly detecting DNA damage of genotoxicity. The first of its kind, the device uses micropumps to push liquid samples through several ‘microwells’ embedded in a tiny carbon chip. Each well is pre-loaded with reactive human metabolic enzymes and DNA. As the wells receive drops of samples, new metabolites with the power to cause DNA damage are formed. These reactions between the metabolites and DNA then generate light, which is captured by a camera. In the span of a mere five minutes, the device operator can see the extent of DNA damage produced by each sample, based on the the intensity of light detected in each microwell.

According to lead author and postdoctoral researcher in UConn’s chemistry department Karteek Kadimisetty, this 3D printed device is completely unique in how it converts chemicals into metabolites during testing. It’s a replication of what happens in the human body, and a technological breakthrough in the rapidly expanding world of DNA screening.

And as shown in the e-cigarette study, the new UConn device is already proving effective. "From the results of our study, we can conclude that e-cigarettes have as much potential to cause DNA damage as unfiltered regular cigarettes," Kadimisetty says.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered, handheld gadgets that heat up specialized fluid, transforming it into an aerosol vapor that can be inhaled, or ‘vaped.’ Known as e-liquid or e-juice, the liquid inside e-cigarettes is typically made up of propylene glycol, glycerine, nicotine, and flavorings such as menthol, cherry, vanilla, or mint. Recently, non-nicotine e-cigarettes have become widely available as well.

The catch is in the misconception that e-cigarettes are somehow healthier than regular tobacco cigarettes. Having taken off since their commercial introduction in 2004, e-cigarettes are frequently viewed as a less toxic alternative for smokers looking to break their habit or simply cut back.

Whether e-cigarettes contribute to health problems, and to what extent, has been the subject of much debate as these devices become increasingly pervasive. As the UConn study indicates, however, there may not be much to debate any longer.

"Some people use e-cigarettes heavily because they think there is no harm," Kadimisetty says. "We wanted to see exactly what might be happening to DNA, and we had the resources in our lab to do that."

Kadimisetty and the rest of the team began by extracting samples from e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes using an artificial inhalation technique. The UConn researchers designed the test so that 20 puffs of an e-cigarettes roughly equated to smoking one tobacco cigarette, and then proceeded to gather samples at 20, 60, and 100 puffs. Not surprisingly, the potential DNA damage caused by e-cigarettes rose with the number of puffs.

While there are hundreds of chemicals in e-cigarettes that could potentially be contributing to DNA damage, Kadimisetty targeted three known carcinogens found in tobacco cigarettes for comparative purposes. The testing device was then loaded with the specific enzymes that would convert these chemicals into metabolites, and measure whether genotoxicity was present.

Fast and inexpensive, the UConn device thus provides an important initial screening tool for DNA damage in only a few minutes. The main chip contained within the device is disposable, costing only a dollar to make.

"What we developed is very cheap to make, efficient, and can be used by almost anyone," says UConn chemistry professor James Rusling, the senior researcher on the study. Future applications could be as wide ranging as screening during drug development, monitoring or testing fresh water supplies, and the early detection of aggressive forms of cancer.

The breakthrough study was supported by funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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