Research published in The Proceedings of National Academy of Science could lead to new treatments for common debilitating smoking-related lung diseases.
The discovery, by researchers at the University of Melbourne, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Australia, and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, US, could dramatically improve treatments and slow the progression of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) which includes the incurable condition emphysema.
COPD is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe and is mostly caused by excessive smoking.
The international team identified that the protein SAA plays a key role in chronic inflammation and lung damage in COPD and also inhibits the natural effort of the lung to repair itself after smoking has stopped.
The findings have been published in the prestigious scientific journal, The Proceedings of National Academy of Science.
Professor Gary Anderson from the University of Melbourne said the discovery could become a dual treatment to improve lung function at any stage of COPD.
“It has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of many people suffering these conditions and reduce the huge burden of health and hospital costs associated with their treatment,” he said.
Lead author Associate Professor Steven Bozinovski from the University of Melbourne said the findings were significant because SAA was normally made in the liver, but they found that very high levels were made in the lungs of COPD patients. “It was a breakthrough for us to confirm that SAA played such a key role in the lung,” he said.
The discovery could lead to dual treatments to improve lung function at any stage of COPD. Firstly, by targeting SAA to switch off its function in the lung, and secondly, adding a synthetic form of the natural healing agent to boost lung healing.
The proposed combined treatment could also improve the effectiveness of steroid treatment for COPD, which is effective in treating other lung diseases such as asthma. It is hoped the new treatment will go to clinical trial within the next seven years.
With a reputation for innovation in clinical research, as well as an extremely generous research and development tax credit, Melbourne is internationally recognised as one of the top biotechnology locations in the world.
The research was funded in part by the National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) and the National Institute of Health (US).