Put Down the Vape: Even Tobacco-Free E-Cigarettes Might Damage DNA

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E-cigarettes (a.k.a. vaporizers or vapes) aren't necessarily a safe substitute for the real thing. Smoking tobacco-free e-cigarettes still damages the users' DNA, increases the rate of genetic mutations, and raises the risk of cancer, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and spotted by Technology Networks.

E-cigarettes are often touted as a healthier way for nicotine addicts to get their fix because vaporizers don't contain tobacco. Smokers inhale water vapor from liquefied nicotine, which doesn't contain the same kinds of cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco-based cigarettes. But the current study findings call that assumption into question.

Researchers from New York University School of Medicine exposed the mice to smoke for three months, and then examined their DNA. They found adducts, a form of DNA damage in which a piece of the genetic material bonds to a chemical. This alters the DNA structure and can increase the risk of mutation. DNA can repair itself, but, the researchers observed, the repair protein levels had also dropped.

To see if e-cigarette smoke would affect humans similarly, they also exposed lung, heart, and bladder cells to nicotine and nitrosamine, a carcinogenic chemical compound formed by the human body when it processes nicotine. Nitrosamines can cause tumors to form, and sub-chemicals can bind to and alter DNA.

These human cells showed the same type of DNA damage found in mice that had been exposed to e-cigarette smoke. The nicotine predisposed the cells to undergo two to four times more spontaneous mutations after additional exposure to environmental triggers, like UV rays.

"Based on these results, I cannot conclude that e-cig smoke is safer than tobacco smoke in terms of cancer susceptibility of smokers," study co-author Moon-shong Tang said, according to Technology Networks.

[h/t Technology Networks]

FDA Recalls Thyroid Medications Due to Contamination Risk

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Hypothyroid medications manufactured by Westminster Pharmaceuticals have been recalled after it was discovered that one of the company’s Chinese suppliers failed to meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards, CNN reports.

The oral tablets contain levothyroxine (LT4) and liothyronine (LT3), which are both synthetic hormones used to treat thyroid conditions.

The medicine was recalled as a precaution after it was discovered during a 2017 FDA inspection that the Chinese supplier in question, Sichuan Friendly Pharmaceutical Co., was not practicing good manufacturing practices.

However, patients with serious thyroid conditions shouldn’t throw out their pills just yet. No adverse effects from the medication have been reported, and the risk of not taking the medication outweighs the risk of taking a recalled pill.

According to the FDA, “Because these products may be used in the treatment of serious medical conditions, patients taking the recalled medicines should continue taking their medicine until they have a replacement product.”

For more information on the specific lots and products in question, visit the FDA’s website.

[h/t CNN]

A 'Zombie Gene' Might Be the Reason Elephants Rarely Get Cancer

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When it comes to cancer rates in the animal kingdom, elephants are an anomaly. As Popular Science notes, cancer should be more common among larger species, but with elephants, that simply isn’t the case. Only about 5 percent of elephants die from cancer, compared to 11 to 25 percent of humans.

In a new study, published in Cell Reports, University of Chicago researchers found what’s believed to be the genetic source of elephants’ cancer immunity. Elephants, like all mammals, have a gene called LIF that is known to suppress tumors. Humans have one copy of this gene, but elephants have 10 copies, which have developed over 80 million years of evolution. However, only one of those copies, called LIF6, is functional in elephants.

The other LIF copies are essentially dead because they lack a specific piece of DNA to make them function. At some point during the evolutionary process, the LIF6 gene copy turned back on, but scientists don’t know why or when this occurred. This “zombie gene” helps kill mutated cells, in true Night of the Living Dead fashion.

“This reanimation of LIF6 occurred perhaps over 59 million years,” Joshua Schiffman, who studies cancer in elephants but was not involved in the study, told Popular Science. “That’s an amazingly long period of time for nature to modify and perfect an anticancer mechanism.”

Scientists aren’t yet sure how this could be applied to cancer research in humans, but they say it’s a promising start and a creative approach to the problem. While these findings are still fresh and need to be duplicated, it raises the possibility of creating a drug that mimics the function of LIF6.

[h/t Popular Science]

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