Researchers at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) have identified genetic variations in the anatomy of the lungs that could offer insights into the risk of developing COPD. According to the study’s first author, Benjamin Smith, MD, MS, assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center, “we found that central airway branches of the lungs, which are believed to form early in life, do not follow the textbook pattern in one quarter of the adult population and these non-textbook variations in airway branches are associated with higher COPD prevalence among older adults.”
James Kiley, M.D., director of the NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases, is encouraged by the findings of Dr. Smith and his colleagues. “This work raises many interesting questions for researchers. Understanding precisely why these genes influence the development of COPD may lead to entirely new and more effective ways of preventing or treating this disease…This novel study suggests that a CT scan, which is widely available, can be used to measure airway structure and predict who is at higher risk for smoke-induced lung injury.” The authors of the study note that more research is needed to confirm whether or not therapeutic or preventive interventions for airway tree variation can have a positive impact on patient outcomes. They also stress that despite these new findings, “quitting smoking remains the best antidote to COPD, and smokers trying to quit should seek professional help, if necessary, to succeed”.
Read the NHLBI press release here.