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Why Some Smokers Develop COPD


Some smokers develop lung disease, while others skate by without it. Now, there’s more evidence suggesting genetic factors play a role in whether a person develops lung disease like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or not. The findings were published today? in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

“Smoking is the biggest lifestyle risk factor for [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease]. Many, but not all, smokers develop the disease. Genetics play a big part, as they do in smoking behavior,” Martin Tobin, study authors and professor of genetic epidemiology and public health at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, said in a press release. “Our research helps to tell us why, paving the way for improved prevention and treatment. Stopping smoking is the best way to prevent smoking-related diseases such as COPD, cancers and heart disease.”

Researchers at the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom used genetic data to determine the lung health of approximately 500,000 patients enrolled in the UK Biobank – a major health resource and registered charity. In a subset of 50,000 people, the researchers compared the genes of heavy smokers to never-smokers.

They found six associations related to a person’s ability to force air out of the lungs – otherwise known as forced expiratory volume in the scientific community – in both groups of people. The genetic variants showed an association with COPD, even in those without a history of smoking. Some sections of DNA reduce the risk for developing the disorder, in smokers or never smokers, according to the study.

Smokers with a protective set of gene variants had a lower risk for developing COPD than those with poorer sets of genes.

The researchers also discovered parts of the human genome related to a person’s lung health for the first time, as well as five sections of DNA related to being a heavy smoker. More findings from this study will be released in 2016.