Researching How E-cigarettes Impact Tissue Development

Richmond, VA (January 11, 2017)- While the effects of conventional tobacco products on human health and pregnancy have been established, little is known about new e-cigarette products.

René Olivares-Navarrete, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering, received a two-year grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research at the National Institutes of Health to study “Perturbation of Craniofacial Morphogenesis, Healing, and Regeneration by E-cigarette Aerosol Mixtures.”

“In our project, we are using a multisystem approach to examine the effects of e-cigarette aerosol mixtures on skull and face development,” he said. “We will use frogs and mice to determine whether indirect exposure to e-cigarette aerosols during development affects how the structures in the face form. The conclusions drawn from these studies are broadly relevant as more nicotine users turn to e-cigarettes as an alternative to traditional tobacco smoking. Today, the federal government has limited access to these products to children under 18, acknowledging their still-unknown effects.”

Olivares-Navarrete is a dentist who spent several years in private practice before pursuing his Ph.D. His research focuses on how clinical materials that are implanted in the body can be modified to control cells in the body — such as stem cells or immune cells. The materials are called “cell-instructive” and, as the name indicates, the idea is to control what the cells produce to reduce inflammation or produce specific tissues, for example.

The overall goal of Olivares-Navarrete’s research is to harness the intrinsic healing and reparative capacity of our bodies to induce faster healing and regeneration. To that end, his group is developing models of challenging clinical populations (e.g. smokers, diabetics, chronic prescription users) to understand why these populations have more difficulty healing and to find ways to re-establish the normal balance in these populations with regenerative medicine strategies.

Olivares-Navarrete is collaborating on the project with Amanda Dickinson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biology, College of Humanities and Sciences, and biomedical engineering students Kelly Hotchkiss, Alexander Whitehead, Pranav Baderdinni and Cristian Coriano.