Lung Biopsies Hint Toxic Fumes May Cause Severe Vaping Disease

A study on lung samples taken from patients suffering from a mysterious vaping-related lung disease may offer a clue about the cause of the condition: toxic chemical fumes. The discovery was announced by the Mayo Clinic in a newly published study detailing the analysis of 17 lung biopsy samples. Though the disease resembles lipid pneumonia, which is caused by inhaling oils, the study didn't find any evidence of oil accumulation in the patients' lungs.

The study was recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, where researchers explain that there's no evidence of oils like mineral oil causing the damage seen in these patients, though it's still possible they may play a role in the overall development of the injury.

Mayo Clinic Arizona surgical pathologist Brandon Larsen, MD, Ph.D., explained, "Instead, it seems to be some kind of direct chemical injury, similar to what one might see with exposures to toxic chemical fumes, poisonous gases and toxic agents."

A total of 17 lung biopsies from patients were examined under this study. The researchers say that 71-percent of the biopsied patients had reported vaping either marijuana or cannabis oils. As well, all of the patients were suffering from 'acute lung injury' and pneumonitis. Two of the biopsied patients have since died from the condition.

It's still unclear at this time which chemicals are responsible for the injury, though state and federal officials are actively looking for the cause. At this point in time, the Mayo Clinic researchers speculate based on their work that most of these cases are likely due to 'chemical contaminants, toxic byproducts or other noxious agents' in the liquids used for vaping.

More than 800 cases and 16 deaths related to vaping have been reported by the CDC. Amid this concerning outbreak, the FDA's enforcement arm has launched a criminal probe into the matter. As well, the agency is taking steps to have all flavored electronic cigarettes pulled from the market. A number of states have introduced temporary restrictions or outright bans on the sale of these devices, giving scientists time to discover the cause of the illness.