ASPPH logo


Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC’s ‘Gillings Sampler’ Offers Efficient, Portable Way to Study Impact of Pollution on Lung Tissue

A team of researchers at University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health has designed and developed a system that uses electrostatics to study the toxicity of airborne pollutants.


[Photo: Photo: Dr. Will Vizuete (center) describes work being done in his lab. With him are study co-authors Dr. Jose Zavala (left) and Dr. Kenneth Sexton.]

Dr. William Vizuete, associate professor in the Gillings School’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, and his colleagues developed the system, the workings of which are detailed in “The Gillings Sampler — An electrostatic air sampler as an alternative method for aerosol in vitro exposure studies” published online July 7 in the journal Chemico-Biological Interactions.

The new technology ensures basic analysis conditions such as direct pollutant-cell interaction, tissue culture environments and uniform exposure to pollutants and will allow researchers to test more efficiently and to better share results of exposure to environmental pollutants. The results of the paper demonstrate that this instrument is ready for the community to use to more accurately study the toxicity and health risk of exposures to particles in the air.

Accepted methods of analyzing airborne pollutants lack a completely reliable standard for measuring. Different aerosol exposure systems use a variety of mechanisms in testing environments — diffusion, sedimentation, cloud settling, and electrostatic precipitation. While these methods all work to a certain extent, none is standardized.

That lack of standardized testing and the limited availability of an in-house system that could be shared with other research groups make it difficult to fully compare research results. Not all exposure systems use the same efficiency testing method. Replicating the methods used for these systems can be uncertain, as detailed protocols might not always be described fully or the pollutant source, such as combustion sources, makes it difficult to reproduce.

For these reasons, attempting to compare the systems based on their toxicological results can be highly problematic. In the process of testing the Gillings Sampler, Dr. Vizuete and his team created a new technology to provide a control method reproducible by any research group to help adequately compare the various exposure systems that have been developed.

Dr. Vizuete and his colleagues, in collaboration with the Gillings School’s Environmental Sciences and Engineering Design Center, developed and manufactured a prototype of the portable aerosol sampler.

Read more: