Could biodiesel help diseased lungs?
Diesel engines have been used widely in commercial vehicles since the 1950s. While the impact that diesel had on the environment and peoples’ health wasn’t known when it was first used, we’re now well aware of the potentially negative side effects of this common fuel.
Since the World Health Organisation has officially classified diesel emissions as being carcinogenic, there is a larger concern about these air pollutants; the impact they have on people that already suffer from chronic lung disease.
Managing lung disease is already a struggle for healthcare professionals. These are aggressive diseases that take hold of people’s lives, and stop their victims from accessing one of life’s necessities: oxygen. Living with a chronic lung disease is painful, uncomfortable and at times terrifying, not knowing if you’ll be able to take another breath.
When a lung disease is very carefully managed, a few patients are able to go about their daily lives with some level of normality. However, when these patients are exposed to everyday air pollutants, maintaining their lung health can become difficult. Patients with a chronic lung disease are more likely to contract an infection or have a flare up of their condition when toxins such as diesel emissions are inhaled and inflame the airways.
While the focus in the media seems to be on cleaning up the environment from pre-existing diesel emissions, researcher Annalicia Vaughan is delving into the potential positive impact of biodiesel, as an alternative to diesel, has on chronic lung disease patients.
She’s already had some very positive results in the lab. While other studies have exposed cells to toxins suspended in a fluid, Annalicia has perfected a special technique where she exposed lung cells to aerosol toxins, which means her research is even more accurate. By using this technique to expose lung cells to aerosol toxins, she’s been able to show that certain biodiesels can be less harmful to the lung cells of lung cancer and COPD patients than standard diesel.
On top of this, she’s been able to show that a drug already used for lung disease management – antioxidant drug NAC – may help to reduce and prevent the negative effects of air pollutants on diseased lung cells. Her next step is to carry out a large research study, using cell samples from over 40 patients with lung disease, COPD and cancer. If this experiment goes to plan, she hopes to have an informative study that will lead to a large patient trial.
The results of this study could help impact future research, educate the population and the fuel industry of the harmful impacts of diesel emissions on the lungs, and emphasise the potential benefit of switching to biofuels.