It seems backwards. Some smokers will never get lung cancer, yet some who have never touched a cigarette have the genetic makeup that predisposes them to get lung cancer. New research sheds some light as to why people seem to have healthy lungs despite years of smoking and why some non-smokers will likely get the disease.
In a study conducted in the United Kingdom, researchers analyzed the DNA of greater than 50,000 people. The analysis indicated that favorable mutations in individuals’ DNA improved and enhanced lung function, thereby masking the deadly effects of smoking.
And, although scientists emphatically state that not smoking is always the best option, the research will hopefully lead to the development of more targeted drugs that will improve lung function.
Researchers focused on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (“COPD”) which affects people’s ability to breath, increases coughing and causes repeated chest infections. The disease affects millions of people and encompasses other diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis.
In the study, smokers and non-smokers were compared in addition to those with COPD and those without the disease. Through comparison of the DNA, researchers discovered portions of the DNA genome that reduces the risk of COPD.
Essentially, smokers with “bad genes” had a much higher risk of developing COPD than those with “good genes.”
Professor Martin Tobin, one of the researchers, indicated that the specific genes in question seemed to directly affect the way lungs develop and how they respond to injury (including infections.) In an interview about the subject he stated that, “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.”
He further pointed out that, “The strongest thing that people can do to affect their future health in terms of COPD and also smoking-related diseases like cancer and heart disease is to stop smoking.”
The researchers also discovered something interesting. They learned that there were portions of the genetic code found more commonly in smokers than non-smokers. Essentially,they determined that these genes altered the brain’s function - and how easily an individual can get hooked on nicotine.
Tobin stated that this discovery offered “fantastic new clues about how the body works that we really had little idea about before and it’s those things that are likely to lead to some really exciting breakthroughs for drug development.”
The head of research at the British Lung Foundation praised the new research and pointed out that, “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.”