UTS site search

UTS research leads to new insight into the adverse effects of maternal cigarette smoking

20 July 2017

UTS is leading the world in research into the adverse effects of cigarette smoking. The research has discovered that oxidative stress is the major mechanism by which developing offspring are harmed when cigarettes are smoked during pregnancy.

Baby inhaler

The American Physiological Society (APS) selected the publication to be included in the APS Select, a collection of outstanding research from the society. The exemplary research is a collaboration between research groups from UTS, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and the Kolling Institute and Royal North Shore Hospital. 

“Most studies in science are a collaboration, but it’s really unusual to get four groups (the two UTS research groups, the Kolling Institute and Chulalongkorn Bangkok) truly working together on the one project,” said Associate Professor Brian Oliver.

A study on the adverse effects of maternal smoking was carried out by UTS PhD students Yik Lung Chan and Razia Zakarya, and Suporn Sukjamnong visiting from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, all supervised by members of the various research groups. 

UTS Adjunct Professor Sonia Saad from the Kolling institute, Chulalongkorn University’s Associate Professor Rachana Santiyanont, two UTS research groups led by Dr Hui Chen, Associate Professor Brian Oliver, and industry partner MitoQ are also collaborators on the project. 

“In reality, Dr Chen was the ‘glue’ that brought this collaborative team together,” said Associate Professor Oliver.

The researching team brings together several areas of expertise, including Dr Chen, whose career has focused upon unraveling the impact that smoking and obesity can have upon the developing child, Associate Professor Oliver, an expert in respiratory disease, and Dr Saad, who is a renal disease expert. All collaborating researchers were commended by the APS for their distinction in scholarship earlier this month. 

This project is one of several research partnerships formed between Chulalongkorn University and UTS. Most recently, Chulalongkorn’s Associate Professor Rachana Santiyanont organised for her PhD student, Suporn Sukjamnong, to travel to UTS to be trained in the latest research methods.  

“The outstanding research that has emerged from partnerships such as these is a testament to the value of international research collaboration, in particular, the developing relationship between UTS and Chulalongkorn University,” said Associate Dean (International & External Engagement) Professor Graham Nicholson. 

Maternal smoking during pregnancy contributes to various long-term health problems in offspring, especially respiratory disorders. Several human studies have indicated that maternal smoking is associated with lung under-development, airflow limitation, an increase in the risk of respiratory infections and development of airway hypersensitivity and asthma. 

Prior to the study, it was thought that nicotine caused most adverse effects on the health of mothers and their offspring.  When a person smokes, however, additional toxic chemicals and billions of free radicals (oxidants) are inhaled, enter the blood stream and affect the whole body. Free radicals are molecules like hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) that are highly reactive and can chemically change (similar to bleaching) tissues in the body. For pregnant women, the response to these chemicals extends to the developing child. 

The study has shown that maternal smoking during pregnancy may increase the risk of chronic inflammatory conditions in offspring’s lungs, making them more susceptible to certain pulmonary disorders such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in adulthood, an area that has been identified for further investigation.  The research also has implications for pregnant women that live in polluted areas or use electronic nicotine delivery systems. The research team is actively pursuing these areas. 

The research was funded by the grants from all of the participating universities, the Department of Education and Training’s Australia Postgraduate Award, and the National Health & Medical Research Council.