The world for those suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is not a pleasant one.Â Characterized by long term emphysema and bronchitis, COPD effects over 32 million people in the United States alone.Â It is currently the fourth leading cause of death for Americans.Â By damaging and inflaming the lung tissue, those with COPD often feel as if they are smothering–and there is little that can be done to provide any sort of lasting comfort, and there is no cure.Â However new hope may be found in a research study conducted byÂ Duke University Medical center that looks at a major cause of COPD–and why some people contract the disease more easily than others.
The study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, hopes to bring new therapies and treatments to the condition, andÂ reveals a significant impact from genetics.Â While it appears that some people can live for years in areas where COPD is more prevalent–like smog filled cities–and never develop any respiratory difficulties, others do not.Â Â Finding the specific triggers and in this case, genetic markers that may make some people more likely to develop COPD could help both with treatment and future prevention.Â If individuals are aware that they carry a strong genetic link lifestyle modifications may be indicated to help reduce development of the disease including eliminating smoking and moving away from areas with serious air pollution.
Researchers have found that diesel engine exhaust is a primary trigger in many cases of COPD.Â The exhaust particles have a carbon-based core which delivers the tiny fragments deep into the lungs of people when they breathe in.Â These particles land on cilia–or tiny fingerlike projections in the respiratory tract that are covered in mucus.Â Cilia are the bodyâ€™s filtering agents for the lungs and work to catch irritants–like diesel exhaust.Â However the chemicals and metals that cover this carbon core begin to irritate the lung tissue–triggering a series of complex responses as the body tries to rid itself of the substances.
Through a somewhat complex series of events it has been found that nearly 75% of people hold a gene variant–meaning an extremely minor change in individual genetics that makes it easier for them to develop COPD because their bodies respond more significantly to pollutants like diesel exhaust.Â The gene, called MMP-1 can turn into a highly aggressive and tissue damaging form known as MMP-1 mediator which can damage lung tissue on many levels–leading to chronic inflammation and lack of lung function. MMP-1 has been linked to destruction that is consistent with both COPD and emphysema as well as increasing the chance of developing some types of lung cancers.
One major benefit brought to light by this study lies in the hope for better medications.Â Being able to understand what could be an underlying trigger or genetic predisposition could provide enough information to dramatically reduce the number of COPD cases in this country and promote more healthy lifestyles.Â More effective medications may also be developed to help treat early symptoms before they develop into a more chronic and damaging form–allowing susceptible patients the chance to breathe easier.