Volunteers breathe exhaust, cleaning products for UK study


Volunteers in England are breathing in pollutants like diesel and cleaning products in the name of science.

Thirteen brave souls are taking part in a scientific study at the University of Manchester that requires them to wear masks hooked up to an air chamber that carefully feeds them four different types of pollutants to inhale, the BBC reported. Sometimes, they’re given clean air.

The study aims to see what impacts the fumes have on the brain. While the effects of pollutants on the lungs and cardiovascular system are more well known, fewer studies have focused on cognition.

Scientists called for volunteers with dementia or Alzheimer’s in their family histories to help understand the connection between pollution and the brain, according to the university.

“Over the last 10 years, we have begun to see statistical associations between air pollution and a whole range of brain-related issues — all the way from how children learn, the way in which their cognition changes, to mental health and increased risks of dementia,” Dr. Ian Mudway, an environmental toxicologist leading the study, told the BBC.

Volunteers are breathing lungfuls of contaminated air to test the impacts on the brain as part of a University of Manchester study. AFP via Getty Images
Studies have linked indoor and outdoor air pollutants to various health problems, including increased risk of cardiac and lung diseases and changes to brain health, according to the University of Manchester. Florian Gaertner
Dr. Ian Mudway, an environmental toxicologist from Imperial College London, is one of the scientists leading the study on pollutants’ impact on brain health. Gresham College

“What we’re trying to do in this study is to actually do experiments to understand why there’s an association, to find out what the underlying biological mechanisms are that link air pollution to adverse effects on the human brain,” he said.

Researchers create four different kinds of pollutants: diesel exhaust, wood smoke, cleaning products and cooking fumes.

An actual engine is used for the diesel exhaust and a pork chop is fried for the cooking fumes.

The scientists are analyzing blood samples and cognitive tests taken before and after exposure.

Bryony Evans is one of 13 participants in a study looking at the effect of pollutants on the brain. BBC

“If they can get more data on these sorts of things, it feels like it’s a really worthwhile use of my time to help with the study like this,” said Bryony Evens, one of the participants.

Some research has suggested that indoor air pollution may be more harmful than outdoor air pollution.

Almost the entire global population — 99% — breathes air that exceeds air quality limits and threatens their health, according to the World Health Organization.

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