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The University Magazine

Smoking research focuses on particle build up

University Magazine - Fall 2008 Image
RIT students constructed a smoking simulation device that models how cigarette smoke impacts individual organs in the body.

RIT researchers are seeking to enhance knowledge surrounding the impact of smoking on human health. Risa Robinson, associate professor of mechanical engineering, is utilizing computational modeling, medical imaging and mechanical simulation to illustrate how particles inhaled with cigarette smoke affect the body and how they travel from the lungs to other organs.

The effort includes the construction of a smoking machine, built and designed by RIT students, that is being used to simulate how particles build up over time. Researchers are particularly interested in the impact smoking has on teenagers. The research is funded through a grant from the American Cancer Society and is being conducted in cooperation with RIT’s Departments of Medical and Biological Sciences and Medical Illustration.

“Previous research on the impact of particle deposits has focused on inundating laboratory samples with toxins and studying the response, the so-called ‘avalanche’ approach,” notes Robinson. “The work at RIT uses a ‘snowflake’ method whereby particles are allowed to build up over time, as they would in the body.”

Robinson believes her research can provide better evidence of the real-time effects of smoking and more properly link how particle buildup impacts numerous systems in the body. She also hopes to shed light on how these particles can impact non-smokers through second-hand smoke, and use her data in additional types of particle analysis, including studying the impacts of allergens.

“Through the use of new computational and imaging technologies, we can learn more then ever before about how particle inhalation and buildup affect human health,” Robinson says. “This information will increase our knowledge of the negative effects of smoking and air pollution, while also providing needed information to enhance treatment, including better application of inhaled medications.”

Robinson’s collaborators include Kathleen Lamkin Kennard, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Richard Doolittle, professor and head of the Department of Allied Health Sciences, Todd Pagano, assistant professor of science and mathematics and Director of the Laboratory Science Technology program at NTID, and undergraduate and graduate student researchers.

Will Dube