Amir Shams, PhD, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Health Center at Tyler, received a $325,000, 3-year grant from the Flight Attendants Medical Research Institute (FAMRI) to investigate whether secondhand cigarette smoke makes individuals more susceptible to infection by the TB bacterium.

FAMRI sponsors scientific and medical research into the early detection, prevention, treatment, and cure of diseases and medical conditions caused by exposure to tobacco smoke.

Much research has been done on the effects of secondhand smoke on noninfectious diseases such as cancer and emphysema, Shams said. But researchers at UTHCT are among the first to look into how secondhand smoke affects a person’s susceptibility to infectious diseases.

“We know that exposure to secondhand smoke can cause different kinds of lung diseases. We know that exposure to secondhand smoke reduces the immune response. So, it’s logical to think that it would make someone more susceptible to TB infection,” Shams said.

Shams and his team are investigating the mechanisms that enable secondhand smoke to weaken the immune response, thus making someone more likely to contract the disease.

“We hope to find the mechanisms that secondhand cigarette smoke triggers in those exposed to it,” he said. “If we can find ways to reverse those mechanisms, it would help those people already exposed to secondhand smoke.”

If Shams and colleagues succeed in identifying and understanding these mechanisms, their findings could be applied to other diseases affected by secondhand smoke.