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Size matters - why smaller lungs get sick much more often


People with smaller lungs are at higher risk for lung diseases
In a new study, scientists were able to show why people with smaller lungs are at greater risk of developing lung diseases. The genes can also be used to predict the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Third leading cause of death worldwide
Lung diseases remain a major health challenge for our society. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) alone is the third leading cause of death worldwide. It is popularly known as smoker's cough. Many patients are often unaware of their severe lung disease for a long time. It always begins insidiously. "In order to develop efficient therapies, scientists are working on understanding the basic mechanisms in the lungs," says a message from the Helmholtz Zentrum München. They have now taken a big step forward.

Lung-healthy people with a smaller lung are more at risk
In particular, the interplay between genes and the environment is increasingly coming into focus.

"We are still primarily interested in the relationship between certain genes and lung function, since it is known that lung-healthy people with a smaller lung have an increased risk of lung diseases," said Prof. Dr. Holger Schulz, acting director of the Institute for Epidemiology I (EPI I) at the Helmholtz Zentrum München.

In the current study, in which the Helmholtz scientists were involved, there was genetic evidence as to why this could be so.

Dr. Christian Gieger, head of the Department of Molecular Epidemiology (AME) at Helmholtz Zentrum München, said: "We were able to identify gene variants that are associated with lower lung function and whose carriers have an increased risk of developing COPD."

Intervene in lung biology to fight diseases
As the researcher explained, the study provided "the first pathophysiological explanations for the connection between lung function and certain genes". In addition, the latter are also candidates for future therapeutic approaches, this translational aspect is particularly important to the scientists.

The results of the investigation were published in the journal "Nature Genetics".

The scientist at EPI I, Dr. Stefan Karrasch explained the methodical approach: “First, genome data from almost 49,000 test persons with very different lung function values ​​were examined. The gene candidates found were then checked in a second phase on the basis of data from a further 95,000 test subjects. ”

In this way, the scientists increased the number of candidate genes from 54 to 97. In the future, they hope that one could try to intervene in lung biology at these points to fight diseases. According to the information, active substances are already under development in some areas.

Almost four times the risk
In the work that was led by the University of Leicester, the scientists also designed a so-called risk score to predict the likelihood of COPD.

According to a statement, patients with the highest scores were almost four times more likely to develop COPD than those with the lowest scores. (ad)

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