- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2016

Harvard scientists this week said a newly designed machine that puffs on up to 10 cigarettes at once is allowing researchers to analyze the biological effects of smoking like never before.

Scientists at the school’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering revealed their project in a paper published Thursday in which they explained how researchers are using robotics to see the toll of cigarette smoking in real time.

The device puffs on up to 10 cigarettes simultaneously, then channels the smoke to a tiny computer chip lined with live human lung cells.

Researchers have outfitted the machine with cells from healthy humans as well as patients with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a respiratory condition that includes ailments like emphysema and chronic bronchitis and is considered to be the third-leading cause of death across the globe.

“The device enables us for the first time to compare responses of human small airway tissues, from both normal individuals and COPD patients, before and after they are exposed to cigarette smoke delivered through physiological breathing outside the human body,” explained Donald Ingber, the founding director of the Wyss Institute and the study’s lead researcher.

“We can now begin to decipher which cell types, cellular functions and genes contribute to smoke-induced injury in normal lung, as well as during COPD exacerbations in individual patients, and thereby, identify common as well as patient-specific disease factors,” he said in a press release.

Scientists for years have studied the effects of cigarette smoking, but the device described by the Harvard team allows researchers to simulate the actual intaking of toxic smoke without complications related to testing either humans or lab animals.

“There is a great need for a novel, versatile and physiologically relevant experimental model that faithfully recapitulates inhaled smoke-induced airway pathologies to study the biological effects of tobacco products,” the researchers wrote in an academic paper published Thursday in the Cell Systems journal.

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