Spurred by unproven assumptions that vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes, a team at West Virginia University is conducting a three-year study on the effects of vaping during pregnancy.
It is estimated that half of all women who smoke prior to becoming pregnant will continue to smoke during and after the pregnancy. The impact of smoking while pregnant can lead to preterm birth, birth defects and an increased chance of sudden infant death syndrome. Because of this, a growing number of women who choose to smoke while pregnant are being encouraged to switch to vaping.
Mark Olfert, WVU associate professor, is the contact principal investigator for this multi-PI study, which involves three other School of Medicine faculty. In addition to Olfert, Paul Chantler, Jonathan Boyd and Duaa Dakhlallah, are all members of the research team. Dr. Eiman Aboaziza, Ph.D. candidate in the Clinical and Translational Science program and one of several students in Olfert's lab, was integral to the initial research examining how vaping during pregnancy affects long-term health outcomes to offspring.
We know that when someone vapes, their blood vessels react by temporarily constricting - or getting smaller, which affects children while in the womb because their fetal environment is also altered."
Mark Olfert, WVU Associate Professor
Altering the blood supply in the fetal environment can create a hostile environment for the fetus and result in serious issues during child and adult life. A major finding from a prior work published by Olfert and Chantler in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2018 showed the vaping produced similar dysfunctional response in blood vessels of male and female animals as did smoking cigarettes. So there is great concern that women who are switching to vaping during pregnancy because they think it is better than smoking are wrong, and that vaping will lead to the same problems and complications for offspring as smoking.
Olfert and his team's current research is building off the prior study to conduct a deeper dive into the reasons and causes that underline the harm, and, importantly, what effect these have on the long-term vascular health in the adolescent and adult life of offspring that experienced fetal exposure to maternal vaping.
The American Heart Association awarded the study a three-year multi-PI Collaboration Science Grant for $750,000.