College of Pharmacy Professor Knoell Receives NIH Grant for Study on Relation Between Zinc, Cadmium and COPD

Daniel Helfand
Daren Knoell
Daren Knoell

Daren Knoell, Kimberly professor and chair of pharmacy practice and administration at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, has received a $750,000 grant from the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to support the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and NIH’s goal of producing scientific evidence on the detrimental effects of tobacco use.

The grant will fund a team composed of researchers from the College of Pharmacy, Ohio State’s Dorothy M. Davis Heart & Lung Research Institute, the University of Cincinnati, and the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute. Together, they will investigate the role of zinc in mitigating the damage done by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) caused by smoking and analyze the role cadmium, a toxic metal found in cigarettes, has on the development of COPD.  

While research has shown the harmful nature of tobacco use, many aspects of tobacco consumption still remain undocumented. This project will use previous discoveries by Knoell and his collaborators on a zinc transporter known as ZIP8. Knoell asserts that understanding how cadmium enters cells through ZIP8 can help the FDA make more informed decisions on how to regulate tobacco production and prevent COPD.     

“One puff of cigarette smoke releases more than 4,000 different chemicals into the lung, which makes understanding the effects of tobacco use incredibly complex,” said Knoell. “We hope this study can provide initial evidence that can translate into meaningful ways to better treat people with lung disease caused by smoking.”

Over the course of the study, the team will document how cadmium enters the lung through ZIP8 and how it contributes to COPD. The research will also will also examine the role of nutrition, specifically zinc supplementation, in preventing COPD during smoke exposure.

“I believe one of the more appealing aspects of our project is it’s simplicity but yet how applicable our findings can be,” said Knoell. “These findings could provide stimulus for the FDA to regulate cadmium levels in cigarettes, allow physicians to conduct tests to more conclusively show patients how smoking will increase their chances of COPD, and propose treatment options that can reduce the effects of and chances of developing COPD.”

The funding will provide the project with $250,000 a year for the next three years. The ultimate goal of the project is to expand the research into human trials that more decisively apply their findings to the real world.

“COPD is a disease that causes permanent effects to the lungs, and it costs the United States billions of dollars to treat people with this disease each year,” said Knoell. “Our goal is to provide evidence that will help the FDA better regulate the tobacco industry’s capacity to manufacture a harmful product. We are not trying to make a healthier cigarette, though; we are trying to make healthier people.”