Long-term exposure to tobacco smoke is associated with the vast majority (80%-90%) of lung cancer cases. Yet, in certain perplexing circumstances, smokers’ lungs seem to remain healthy, despite their continued use of cigarettes and tobacco products. Now, British scientists at the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom might have an explanation as to why this is. The study findings were presented at the annual European Respiratory Society meeting and are now published in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine.
GENETICS AND SMOKERS: THE LINK
According to Martin Tobin, a study author and professor of genetic epidemiology, “Smoking is the biggest lifestyle risk factor for [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease]”, which makes it progressively harder for an individual to breath. Genetics, however, also play a big role in whether or not the disease is acquired. According to the results of the study, certain people are considered at less of a risk of COPD due to genes which largely affect how the lungs might recover from an injury. Non-smokers, by contrast, can also be predisposed to the condition.
HOW THE SMOKING STUDY WAS CARRIED OUT:
The findings could potentially aid researchers in the search for better treatments for COPD and other diseases similar to it. The scientists were able to come to this conclusion by analyzing lung health data from 500,000 patients enrolled in the UK biobank, which currently examines the contribution of genetics and the environment to the development of disease. Of the 500,000 participants, 50,000 people, including smokers and non-smokers between the ages of 40 and 69, were specifically chosen for their lung health status.
Scientists then compared the data with 28 million genetic variants found in each person to find six associations related to a person’s ability to force air out of the lungs. The genetic variants are also associated with COPD, even in individuals with no history of smoking. Moreover, scientists discovered parts of the genome that were not previously associated with lung health. The results will help researchers develop adequate treatments with less side effects for lung diseases, and may also help smokers quit in the future.