Stokes Lab Research

“If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.”

-George Edgin Pugh, 1977

Why Do We Care About Vaping? 

Electronic nicotine delivery methods (e-cigarettes) are an emerging and rapidly growing class of tobacco products used to deliver nicotine in a vaporized (aerosol) form. As of 2014, e-cigarettes are the most common tobacco product used by youth and young adults and e-cigarette use is associated with the use of other tobacco products. The popularity of these products and growing use among youth is a public health concern as nicotine exposure during adolescence poses risk to the developing brain. Furthermore, the effects of the aerosol on lung physiology and tissue health, both during adolescent and adulthood is under active investigation. The scientific community is still uncovering the effects of the delivery vehicle (“juice”) and nicotine on lung immune health and lung function.

Woman Vaping

The central research goal is to uncover the effects of e-cigarette exposure on adolescent lung development from prenatal exposure to adolescent use, with outcomes assessing lung physiology and molecular anatomy (pathological assessment). The implications of this avenue of research are far reaching and will contribute new knowledge to the scientific community on the understanding of e-cigarette effects on lung developmental anatomy and function and, ultimately, overall health. 
 

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What we know  (...not much) 
 

  • Recent research using animal models to investigate the effects of short and long-term e-cigarette or “juice” exposure on lung tissue health reveal histopathological changes in respiratory tissue and increased lung tissue immune cell activation

  • Cardiovascular health may also be compromised with chronic e-cigarette exposure further complicating the possible health effects.

  • Through research we are learning that e-cigarettes are not risk free, and pose a whole new host of threats to the respiratory system and possibly other systems

Our Methods

Whole Body Plethysmography

  • Ventilation (breathing) is recorded in awake and alert animals allowing for analysis of many ventilation parameters such as tidal volume (breath volume) and frequency

  • We can then use this data to investigate changes to an animals breathing patterns with vape exposure

 

 


Vape Exposure Chambers

  • We built a system with Arduino controlled pumps connected to chambers to expose rats to e-cigarette vapor, vehicle solution, or air

  • Using these chambers we can control the amount of vape that the rat is exposed to as well as the time of exposure in the chamber

 


Tissue Assays and Histology

  • At the end of the study tissue is collected for analysis either by molecular assay (RT-PCR, Western Blot, ELISA, etc.) or histology depending on the study goals

  • Histology allows us to view the morphology of the tissue and detect any possible changes in tissue integrity (and you get  beautiful images, such as the ones featured on this website)

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What you will learn working in the Stokes Lab: 

  • How to form a research question, hypothesis, and experimental design based on current published literature

  • How to critically evaluate research methods and data

    • Both your own, and others'​

  • Research techniques, including animal handling and behavioral assessments, dissections, molecular pathology assays, and tissue staining and microscopy

  • How to quantitatively analyze microscope images, specific to cell type​

  • How to communicate your research to anyone and everyone! 

  • Patience! Research takes time and often requires multiple attempts with protocol modifications along the way 

  • That research is fun and a great way to build both problem solving and time management skills

Still interested? Follow Toprosaur to the lab! 

Side note... Why I love research and working with students in the lab: 

My interest in research began as an undergraduate, at The University of Texas at Austin, where I was very fortunate to have a graduate student mentor who was driven, patient, and sincerely interested in allowing new students ask questions, fail, and try any technique they wanted. This supportive environment introduced to me the complexities of neural signaling in the brain and I was mystified by something that I knew we may never fully understand, but I wanted to try. In the hands of passionate and talented mentors, I was guided through a project investigating the effects of alcohol consumption on inflammation in the brain. I will never forget the first time I saw a mouse brain section light up in three different beautifully fluorescent colors: WOW! I was hooked. Right then I realized that I now had the knowledge and tools to color a brain, and I wanted to do this every single day. Fast forward to a PhD in Biomedical Sciences and Postdoctoral Research in the neural control of breathing, and I am still captivated by the colorful brain images that I get to create every day.

Figure 1: One of my first confocal images as a graduate student. Microglia in the mouse spinal cord.