UofL to share in nearly $18 million windfall for tobacco research

Examples of e-cigarettes | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The University of Louisville will share in nearly $18 million in funding to the American Heart Association to help better understand the health effects of tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes and hookah.

The money, which comes from the National Institutes of Health through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, will support the work of the association’s Tobacco Regulation and Addiction Center, which UofL participates in.

Of the $17.98 million in renewal funding, “$8.7 million of that will come directly to the work of researchers here at the University of Louisville,” the school’s president, Neeli Bendapudi, said at a news conference Monday.

The money will enable nine institutions, including UofL, to continue doing research that could then enhance federal control of tobacco products, including new, emerging and trendy ones, such as the popular JUUL e-cigarette.

Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, deputy chief science and medical officer of the American Heart Association | Photo by Darla Carter

“We’re very pleased that the FDA and the NIH felt we were highly productive in the first five years,” said Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, co-director of the association’s center with UofL’s Aruni Bhatnagar. “Our science is aimed at very specifically providing information that the FDA needs to regulate the distribution and manufacture of tobacco-derived products.”

Bhatnagar is the director of UofL’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, which is one of the homes of AHA’s Tobacco Regulation and Addiction Center.

The Envirome Institute, which studies the connection between the environment and health, has been the focus of about $35 million in major funding announcements in recent months, including more than $16 million for diabetes and obesity related research and about $5 million in grants related to the Green Heart project. That’s a study of whether planting greenery in urban neighborhoods can improve health.

“This is quickly becoming my favorite spot on campus,” said Bendapudi, who was speaking at the Abell Building, where the diabetes announcement was made just a few weeks ago.

Aruni Bhatnagar is the director of UofL’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute. | Photo by Darla Carter

With the most recently announced money, researchers will try to hone in on the critical components in tobacco products that are responsible for most of the harm generated, Bhatnagar said. Then federal officials would “be able to regulate those specific constituents … to minimize harm, particularly cardiovascular injury.”

The center also is concerned about e-cigarette flavors. Mimicking bubble gum, candy and fruit, the flavors are “hugely important in the attractiveness of e-cigarettes,” especially among youth, and open the door to use of other tobacco products, said Robertson, who’s also the association’s deputy chief science and medical officer.

Future research by the center could help, Bendapudi said in a news release on UofL’s involvement. “Hopefully, it will impact those who are considering using tobacco both by providing information regarding health effects that can be used in health risk warnings, and also by providing FDA data regarding the toxicity of individual constituents within tobacco-derived aerosols.”