Scientists at the USA College of Medicine and the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute found that nicotine, the addictive ingredient in tobacco products and cigarette substitutes, plays a novel role in immunosuppression. The findings highlight the health hazards of nicotine intake, including an enhanced susceptibility to developing cancer.
As part of her doctoral research project, Sirin Saranyutanon, a Ph.D. candidate in the Basic Medical Sciences Graduate Program, investigated the effect of nicotine on macrophage polarization, growth and invasion to understand its role in human physiology. Macrophages are an important component of the innate immune system that can have both pro- and anti-inflammatory functions depending upon their polarization state.
“Our findings suggest that nicotine weakens our immune system by altering the function of macrophages, and converting them from defenders to the type that helps resolve protective inflammatory response and support tumor growth,” Saranyutanon said.
The findings add to the growing concern about the use of nicotine, said Ajay Singh, Ph.D., who is the adviser of Saranyutanon and a professor of pathology at the USA College of Medicine and leader of the Cancer Biology Program at the Mitchell Cancer Institute.
“The use of nicotine through vaping has increased tremendously in recent years, especially among teens, owing to the belief that it’s less damaging than smoking,” Singh said. “Moreover, vaping products are cheaper and available in tempting flavors. Being a relatively newer trend, epidemiological data associating vaping with slow-developing diseases like cancer is not yet available. However, our findings should raise awareness about the harms that it can cause to human health.”
The study was published in the Journal of Cellular Physiology, a high-impact journal that publishes research on eukaryotic cell biology and physiology. Authors include researchers from the USA College of Medicine and the Mitchell Cancer Institute: Srijan Acharya, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow; Sachin Kumar Deshmukh, Ph.D., research associate; Mohammad Aslam Khan, Ph.D., research associate; Seema Singh, Ph.D., professor of pathology; and Ajay Singh, Ph.D.
As a doctoral student at the USA College of Medicine, Saranyutanon said she has felt both challenged and supported in her research. “I have had the opportunity to interact with incredible scientists in my field, and I am always learning and growing from my interactions with faculty, postdocs, academic advisors and fellow students,” she said.
Saranyutanon said research can be stressful at times but ultimately is very rewarding. “When you discover something new and it gets recognized, the feeling is undefinable,” she said. “You become part of scientific advances that eventually contribute to a better, longer and disease-free life.”