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Genes Appear to Play a Role in Development of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center lung disease specialist has reported that some smokers may be genetically predisposed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Jill Ohar, professor of pulmonology and critical care medicine at Wake Forest Baptist, presented her findings at the 100th International Conference of the American Thoracic Society in Orlando, Fla., today (May 25).

In her study, Ohar looked at more than 500 men and women age 40 and older who had smoked 20 years or more. She has found that a variation that changed the protein sequence of the macrophage scavenger receptor gene (MSR-1) is related to the development of airways obstruction in some patients who smoke cigarettes.

“We found a significant association between sequence variations in the MSR-1 gene and the presence of airways obstruction in smokers that may account for some of the variability in the development of COPD,” said Ohar. “This finding may help us to understand why some smokers develop COPD and improve our understanding of how the disease develops.”

Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, accounting for 90 percent of all cases. Yet, COPD affects only 15 percent to 20 percent of all smokers.
COPD is a group of lung diseases characterized by limited air flow with variable degrees of enlargement of the lung’s air sacs and lung destruction. When diseased, these air sacs, known as alveoli, are unable to completely deflate and are therefore unable to fill with fresh air to ensure adequate oxygen supply to the body. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the most common types of COPD.

Ohar was the lead investigator of a team including Arjun B. Chatterjee, M.D., S. Lilly Zheng, M.D., Deborah A. Meyers, Ph.D., Jing Feng Xu, M.D., and Eugene R. Bleecker, M.D., all from Wake Forest Baptist, and David Sterling, M.D., from the Saint Louis University School of Public Health.

The study was funded in part by the Selikoff Fund for Environmental and Occupational Cancer Research. Irving J. Selikoff. M.D. – the physician and scientist who led the worldwide struggle to prevent exposure to asbestos – created this fund to continue his program of applying the new discoveries in molecular biology for the detection, treatment and prevention of cancer and other diseases associated with the work and community environments.

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