UI Researchers Unveil the Impact of Heatwaves on Lung Health

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March 08, 2024

Story: Jackson Fischer

A team of researchers in the Environmental Health Research Center at the University of Iowa are investigating the effects of heatwaves on lung health. 

The number of people exposed to extreme heat is increasing due to climate change. Heatwaves are among the most dangerous of natural hazards, but rarely receive adequate attention because their death tolls and destruction are not always immediately obvious. 

Between 2000 and 2016, the number of people exposed to heatwaves increased by around 125 million, according to the World Health Organization. 

The EHRC’s research aims to understand how heatwaves trigger lung inflammation, with the long-term goal of identifying biomarkers and interventions to mitigate the effects of heatwaves on human health. 

Using a mouse model, the researchers expose mice to heat for eight hours and then examine gene expression in the lungs, inflammatory markers in the serum to measure inflammation throughout the body, and metabolomics. 

Findings from the preliminary study suggest that heat increases inflammation in the lungs and throughout the body. Increased inflammation can disrupt amino acid metabolism, which could lead to the formation of metabolic diseases.                                                              

The research team includes Hans-Joachim Lehmler, director of the EHSRC and professor in the College of Public Health; Laura Dean, a postdoctoral researcher in the Office of the Vice President for Research; and undergraduate students Darby Forsyth and Megan Brown. 

The research team plans to initiate a similar study next month examining the impact of heatwaves on pregnancy using a mouse model. Their goal is to deepen understanding of heatwave effects on lung health and pregnancy outcomes, including pre-eclampsia. 

Undergraduate students Darby Forsyth and Megan Brown will present preliminary findings from the study at the University of Iowa’s Spring Undergraduate Research Festival on Wednesday, April 3, 2024.