Pasadena biomedical researcher warns of vaping dangers
By Ron Sanzone
Like most physicians and researchers, renowned cardiologist Dr. Robert A. Kloner, Ph.D., studied medicine to save lives.
In his role at Pasadena-based Huntington Medical Research Institutes, Kloner learned vaping can cause harm to the heart and lungs as early as one’s first exposure to it.
For more than a decade, scientific research has undermined widely held notions that e-cigarettes are safe, even when they are used without additives such as nicotine, vitamin E oils, and THC.
The institute’s collaboration with the University of Southern California and the University of California, Irvine, revealed just how quickly vaping can cause damage.
Kloner, the institute’s chief science officer and scientific director of cardiovascular research, says his study with UCI (laboratory of Dr. Michael Kleinman) found vaping “is associated with an increase in inflammation of the lungs which occurs after just one four-hour exposure.”
“There can be inflammation of the lungs and changes in gene expressions of the lungs as well as inflammatory cells entering the lungs.”
In essence, this means that vaping stimulates certain genes in a way that makes them more likely to produce inflammation in the lungs.
Vaping’s dangers are not limited to the respiratory system. One of the studies with his USC collaborators (laboratory of Dr. Niema Pahlevan) suggested that the coordination of heart function with the blood vessels might be altered by vaping.
The results of the studies were presented to the American Heart Association Annual Scientific Sessions. The abstracts were published in the November 26, 2021, issue of Circulation, one of the association’s peer-reviewed journals.
Previous research on vaping has examined numerous cases of primarily young men showing up in hospitals with difficulty breathing. Chest X-rays revealed that they were suffering from EVALI, a lung disease caused by vaping that has some similarities to the type of pneumonia seen in COVID-19 patients.
Although the dangers of vaping, ranging from the metals used in heating coils to additives such as nicotine and flavorings, have been known for years, Kloner still found something eye-opening in the studies by the institute, USC and UCI.
“The most surprising thing to me was the rapidity with which inflammation can occur after vaping,” he says.
While conceding that there may be some elements of e-cigarettes that are safer than standard cigarettes — such as using it as a tool to quit smoking and its lower amounts of tar — Kloner says he believes it is important that people not assume they’re safe.
“You need to be aware that you might be trading one poison for another poison,” he says. “E-cigarettes and vaping alone may not be benign.”
Kloner has studied cardiovascular health and disease for decades. When he arrived at Huntington Medical Research Institutes in 2015, he brought with him not only a team of researchers but an impressive resume.
After graduating from Northwestern University with an M.D. and a Ph.D. in experimental pathology, he did his postdoctoral training , including a cardiology fellowship, at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
He worked as an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, and ended up on the West Coast in 1988 to become the director of the Heart Institute at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downtown Los Angeles until taking his current position at Huntington Medical Research Institutes.
Kloner, who is also a professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, developed an interest in the medical field at an early age. His father was a pharmacist and his mother a social worker at a hospital.
“I first became interested in medicine I think primarily because of influences from some of my science teachers in high school and also my family,” he says.
He dates his specific interest in cardiology to an internship at the National Institutes of Health in 1972. As his studies at Northwestern progressed, he narrowed his focus to the biological and chemical processes that occur during a heart attack. That interest became a passion and eventually a subject of research that remains.
“This really got me very excited about the possibility that we could actually decrease damage in relationship to a heart attack,” he says. “And that is a theme that has continued over the course of my career.”
As an author, Kloner has published hundreds of papers, abstracts and other academic materials on various cardiovascular subjects.
He and other researchers have discovered relationships heart attacks have to stressful events such as earthquakes and major sporting events. They are studying possible connections between the early stages of dementia and variations in heart rates, as well as the potential benefits on cardiovascular health of a class of drugs used for erectile dysfunction.
It is ultimately the possibility of saving lives that drives the work.
“One of our areas of research that we’ve been very excited about is the concept that we can develop new therapies to reduce the amount of damage (from a heart attack),” he says.
“There’s a need to reduce the number of cells that die after a heart attack, and that’s where we come in with our research.”
Kloner will discuss topics like the connection between the brain and heart, and stress and the heart, and potential new therapies at 4 p.m. Tuesday, February 22, on Zoom. To attend, contact Susie Berry, vice president of development at HMRI, at email@example.com.