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E-Liquid Flavors Harmful to Zebrafish Embryos, Study Finds

It sounds like a headline from The Onion, but this is no joke, a group of Canadian researchers actually exposed zebrafish embryos to e-cigarette vapor and concluded that vaporized flavorings are bad for them…

Scientists at the University of Calgary recently published one of the most bizarre vaping study I have ever reported on. They exposed a number of pregnant zebrafish – a freshwater fish popular as an aquarium pet – to several types of vape aerosol extracts and then monitored the embryos to see how they reacted. Several types of aerosol were used, from the simple PG/VG combinations, to nicotine and flavorings-containing aerosol extracts,

The zebrafish eggs were allowed to be fertilized and the growing embryos were then monitored using a technique called PMR, which encourages them to move under a light. Because zebrafish eggs are transparent, like the fish themselves, scientists could then analyze the behavior of the embryos.

By measuring how they moved just prior to hatching, researchers concluded that unflavored e-liquid aerosol extract had no impact on zebrafish embryo brain development, while flavored and nicotine-containing vape aerosol extracts had “a profound impact on the behavior of the embryos”. The most significant behavior changes were noticed when the embryos were exposed to both flavored and nicotine containing aerosol extracts.

“Flavored nicotine-free VAEs also dulled sensory perception and caused hyperactivity in zebrafish embryos. The combination of flavor and nicotine produced largely additive effects. Flavored VAEs without nicotine had similar neuroactive potency to nicotine,” the University of Calgary researchers concluded.

Apparently, the authors of the study believe that the neurobehavioural effects observed in zebrafish embryos are “worthy of further investigation for long-term neurotoxic potential and also have the potential to modulate nicotine impact on the developing brain”.

Let’s be clear, zebrafish have been used in medical research for years now, with some scientists considering them indispensable. Not only do they share 70 percent of the human genetic code, but the fact that they are transparent allows researchers to observe and study cells inside their bodies as they grow and divide. Plus they also reproduce and develop at an astonishing rate, making them available in ample supply, which is really important in the field of medical research.

That said, zebrafish are still fish, and exposing them to aerosol extracts to see how they react hardly seems appropriate to prove that e-liquid flavorings and nicotine could be harmful during pregnancy. How were the doses of nicotine or flavorings, or even those of aerosol calculated to mimic the amount of vapor that a human embryo would be exposed to? Is the brain of a zebrafish really that similar to that of a human? I doubt it.

We already knew that nicotine could cause problems during pregnancy, and I’m pretty sure that the percentage of pregnant women vaping nicotine-free flavored e-liquid is negligible, so I don’t really see the point of this study, but if you were curious about the effect of vape aerosol EXTRACT on ZEBRAFISH embryos, now you know…

If this is the state of vaping research, I’d say it’s time to panic.

Photo: Marrabbio2/Wikimedia Commons

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