Smoking on campus at Harvard University is most definitely against the rules, unless you are the chain-smoking robot created by scientists at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. This ingenious machine can smoke up to ten cigarettes at a time while imitating the way that humans inhale, all in the name of science.
The founding director of the Wyss Institute, Dr. Don Ingber, hopes that the new machine will help progress costly tobacco research while simultaneously replacing harmful animal research tactics. In theory, the chain-smoking robot will be able to detect certain connections between tobacco smoke and smoking-related diseases. It is said to be comprised of a “rubber block full of lung cells … called a lung-airway-on-a-chip [that’s] connected to a respirator that mimics how humans smoke.”
“The smoke goes through this instrument, into the airway of our organ chip, and it comes out again, so that the chip experiences cigarette smoke as if a human is breathing and smoking at the same time,” states Ingber.
Apparently, the team of scientists conduct two different tests, one where the lung cells are exposed to tobacco smoke and one where they are not. But the robot isn’t just for conventional smoking research. They also plan to use the contraption to further their research in electronic cigarettes and the potential dangers of the related vapor, too.
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To determine if their mechanical creation truly works, the team of researchers lined the chips with lung cells taken from patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The leading cause of COPD is tobacco smoking, and there is no known cure currently. When they pushed the smoke through their chain-smoking robot, some 147 genes appeared to express themselves differently in the COPD samples as compared to the healthy lung cells.
For the purpose of the initial paper, the team did not focus too much on vaping. However, they did find that e-cigarette vapors might have some effect on the cilia of the lungs in the long term. They have not yet conducted the gene expression experiment that they did for smoking, but that is right around the corner. If the vaping industry is correct and this team of innovative scientists can successfully prove once and for all that vaping is 95 percent less harmful than smoking, we might owe a huge debt of gratitude to Harvard University and its chain-smoking robot.
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