Most research centers don’t allow smoking in the lab, but the Wyss Institute at Harvard University is a little different. There, researchers have built a device that can smoke 10 cigarettes at a time, as STAT reports.

The smoking machine, described in a recent paper in Cell Systems, is helping advance research on the ways in which smoking and vaping affect lung cells, with a focus on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is most often caused by smoking. The machine can “breathe” in and out with a respirator, mimicking the way people take in air and smoke at the same time. It’s lined with a chip containing the cells from the lung’s smallest passageways, bronchioles, with mucus and cilia (hair-like projections that move liquids and particles), as found in a real lung.

In this study, the researchers lined the “smoking airway-on-a-chip” with diseased lung cells and healthy lung cells. They were able to identify 147 genes whose expression differed based on their disease status. In another test, they used vapor from e-cigarettes in the machine, showing that vaping changed the way the cilia moved in healthy lung cells.

The smoking machine likely won’t replace animal lung studies entirely, but does provide a convenient way to test smoking’s effects on human lung cells. 

[h/t STAT

All images courtesy Benam et al., Cell Systems (2016)

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