UNC research round-up for Feb. 24, 2016

E-cigarettes may be more dangerous than previously thought

Despite notions that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking, new research suggests they may have harmful effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently classifies the e-cigarette flavorings as “generally safe for consumption,” but this classification is meant for oral consumption, not inhalation. 

Ilona Jaspers researches potential effects of e-cigarettes and other new tobacco products as part of the School of Medicine’s Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science and Lung Health. 

Jaspers’ data demonstrates e-cigarette inhalation may have an impact on the immune system. Certain flavors may be more prone to side effects. Jaspers and her team have found cinnamon-flavored e-cigarettes in particular negatively impact the immune system. 

Jaspers’ lab plans to continue researching the safety of e-cigarettes.

Treatment can lower risk of HIV transmission

Researchers at the University, including J. Victor Garcia and Angela Wahl, who work in the division of infectious diseases at the School of Medicine, published a study that could potentially have long-term ramifications for the way we treat AIDS and HIV. 

Their clinical trial found antiretroviral therapy decreased transmission of HIV significantly — when infected partners received early antiretroviral therapy, their uninfected partners were 93 percent protected. 

Even after antiretroviral therapy, parts of the virus remain inside the female reproductive system. But these are not enough to transmit infection — meaning that this discovery could potentially be used for cure research.

New understanding of how bacteria spread could help treatment

A new School of Medicine study details a discovery about the spread of bacteria: some bacteria — including a type of salmonella and a species that causes a dangerous infection called tularemia — are capable of growing inside macrophages. Macrophages are important cells to the immune system that are supposed to ingest and kill bacteria.

Tom Kawula is a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University and lead author of the study. He said his team has been working on the bacteria that cause tularemia for more than twelve years. 

Targeting bacteria before they spread could be the key to treating bacterial infections without the fear of building up antibiotic resistance.

Active surveillance recommended for low-risk prostate cancers 

Ronald Chen is a UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center member who co-authored a new guideline about prostate cancer for the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The guideline recommends low-risk prostate cancers be monitored closely instead of treated by radiation or chemotherapy, which can both have adverse side effects.

“For certain types of prostate cancer, maybe we don’t need to treat them,” Chen said. “Maybe we just need to follow them safely.”

This guideline is intended for use by physicians when deciding the best course of action for their patients.

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