Are low-tar cigarettes less hazardous to health than regular cigarettes? Although some studies suggest that
low-tar cigarette smoke is slightly less toxic, the research has been limited to tobacco’s effects on laboratory animals.
Now, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of the NIH, has awarded a two-year, $320,000 grant to an NYU dental team to test a unique new method for comparing early changes in human cells exposed to smoke from regular and low-tar cigarettes. The study will also test early changes in human cells from an ultra low-tar version that the tobacco industry claims is less toxic because it heats tobacco instead of burning it.
The team’s method is to observe changes occurring after liquefied tobacco smoke is added to a mixture of normal human oral cells and rat cells. The rat cells are genetically engineered to act as sensors detecting mutations in human cells exposed to tobacco smoke. These mutations, beginning as soon as two weeks after exposure, can represent the earliest stage of oral cancer. At the conclusion of the study, the researchers will assess which kind of cigarette smoke caused the greatest number of mutations. A significantly higher mutation rate would indicate a greater cancer risk.
“Our study will be useful for comparing the cancer risk of different cigarettes,” said the team leader,
Dr. Joseph Guttenplan, a Professor of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology. Dr. Guttenplan’s coinvestigators are Dr. Peter Sacks, Professor of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology, and Dr. Fang-An Chen, Adjunct Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.