Zebrafish Help Rochester Middle Schoolers See Dangers of Vaping from the InSciEd Out

Rather than simply telling kids vaping is harmful to their health, one Rochester school took a different approach to prevention, letting students figure it out themselves through hands-on research.

Ever since vaping caught on among kids as a perceived safer alternative to smoking, medical officials have released statement after statement dispelling that belief. But sometimes, telling kids not to do something can sometimes have the opposite effect. That's why one middle school in Rochester took a different approach to vaping prevention. Rather than simply telling kids vaping is harmful to their health, they let them figure it out for themselves in a safe and fun environment.

Last fall, students at Lincoln K-8 District-Wide School began studying the effects of vaping solutions on developing zebrafish embryos, as the Rochester Post-Bulletin and KARE11 News report. The research was part of the school's participation in InSciEd Out, a partnership between the InSciEd Out Foundation, Rochester Public Schools and Mayo Clinic created to "engage students and empower teachers through research-based experiential learning."

Lincoln middle-schoolers first put "a diluted amount of vaping product, without nicotine," into petri dishes containing zebrafish embryos, KARE11 reports, following "national guidelines set by the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for testing on animals." Then the students sat back and watched how those vaping solutions affected the embryos' development. And they did it, Mayo Clinic molecular biologist and InSciEd Out Director, Christopher Pierret, Ph.D., tells KARE11, in real-time. "The zebrafish allow us a window into development that we don't see in other model systems," Dr. Pierret says. "They go from basically one cell to a swimming fish in two days, and develop all their organ systems that we would be interested in over the course of seven days. It's so fast, and it's transparent, and it's visible the entire time."

In other words, it's pretty much the perfect research environment for young kids to see just how harmful vaping is. "It's so powerful for students to see it firsthand," principal Jim Sonju tells the Post-Bulletin.

What those kids saw firsthand, the P-B and KARE11 report, were the dangers of vaping playing out right in front of their young, impressionable eyes. "They just died," eighth-grader Sydney Schulz tells the P-B of what happened to newly hatched zebrafish eggs subjected to "various levels" of vape solutions in water — levels that KARE11 adds were "equivalent to or even below what a human would consume if they vaped."

In a second experiment, students watched how vaping affected the development of zebrafish embryos subjected to "10% and 1% vape oil dilutions" vs. those developing in clean water. "They should be swimming by Day 3," student Julia Sanchez tells the P-B of a healthy zebrafish embryo's expected developmental curve. Instead, she and her classmates saw zebrafish embryos in vape solutions already "lying sideways and not swimming upright."

Other observations included "stunted eye growth (which hints at stunted brain development)," and, according to Dr. Pierret, “a breakdown in the vasculature in the brain” of at least one fish. "We also learned that their development was really slow," eighth-grader Cal Sonju tells KARE11. "It just makes me think [vaping's] worse than when people put it as a better alternative for smoking and stuff."

And that, Dr. Pierret says, was his primary goal for giving students a chance to do their own research. "I hope the students walk away with a voice," he tells KARE11. "They found out about vaping. Not only about how vaping might affect development, but how they as students, at the target market age for vaping, are responding to knowing more about it."

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