Vaping study: Mayo Clinic researchers find lung injuries caused by toxic chemical fumes

The numbers seem to be growing by the day. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there have now been 18 deaths linked to vaping here in the U.S., with more than a thousand cases reported in 48 states. Seven of those cases are right here in Arizona. Now, researchers at the Mayo Clinic are trying to get to the bottom of what's causing it — and they may be close to figuring it out.

The study was just published. So much more awareness actually happening for a lot longer than we know. The injuries are very severe. Researchers with the Mayo Clinic recently studied the lungs of 17 patients, all of whom had vaped and were suspected to have vaping-related illnesses.

"The range of the injuries that we saw were most in keeping within what you see in lungs with people that have been exposed to some kind of toxic inhalation or a fine injury," said Dr. Yasmeent Butt, surgical pathologist at Mayo Clinic. "So, say a worker in a factory — there's some spill of a toxic chemical, and then they breathe all of these fumes."

The study found no evidence of tissue injury caused by the accumulation of lipids or fatty substances like mineral oils. This has recently been suspected as a possible cause for illness.

"It's possible that Vitamin E breaks down products that could be causing injury," Dr. Butt said. "We can't say definitely that's not the case, but what we can say is what we don't see is fat droplets essentially accumulating in the lungs and the Vitamin E would be in this fat droplets."

Researchers say the lung samples were distinctively different from what they see with traditional cigarette and marijuana smokers. These smokers develop lung injury over time — with vape, it's more immediate.

"What we're seeing in these patients is acute lung injury, so this is something more immediate and more severe — it can happen very quickly," Dr. Butt said. "If you look at some of their airways, what we're seeing is the cells that line the airways are actually falling off, and there's a lot of adema, so swelling and inflammation in the airway itself and some of these findings were very severe, and two patients in the study did pass away."

Researchers say they can't say whether these injuries were caused by vape bought over the counter or on the black market because they have to go with what the patients tell them. They say some patients claimed to use both, and others claimed to only use over the counter products.