How Do Some Heavy Smokers Escape?

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UK scientists have unravelled the mystery of why some people have healthy lungs despite a lifetime of smoking.  A study on 50,000 people (UK’s Biobank project) has revealed that mutations in people’s DNA enhanced lung function and masked the deadly impact of smoking.  This discovery, the Medical Research Council scientists say could lead to new drugs to improve lung function.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) including bronchitis and emphysema which lead to breathlessness, coughing and repeat chest infections are thought to affect three million people in the UK.  DNA that reduce the risk of COPD had been discovered by comparing smokers and non-smokers as well as those with the disease and without.  Smokers with “good genes” had a lower risk of COPD than those with “bad genes“.  Prof Martin Tobin said the genes seemed to affect the way the lungs grow and respond to injury.  

However, “there doesn’t appear to be any kind of magic bullet that would give anyone guaranteed protection against tobacco smoke – they would still have lungs that were unhealthier than they would be had they been a non-smoker.  So, refraining from smoking is always good. The habit also increases the risk of heart disease and cancers”.  The scientists also uncovered parts of the genetic code which were more common in smokers than nonsmokers.  The genes seem to alter the brain’s function to make someone easily become addicted to nicotine.  Their findings were presented at a meeting of the European Respiratory Society and published in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal.

Ian Jarrold, the head of research at the British Lung Foundation, said: “These findings represent a significant step forward in helping us achieve a clearer picture about the fascinating and intricate reality of lung health.  Understanding genetic predisposition is essential in not only helping us develop new treatments for people with lung disease but also in teaching otherwise healthy people how to better take care of their lungs.

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