New research published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine has described the role that certain genetic factors have in triggering lung disease, meaning that certain smokers are more likely to develop lung disease than others.
Led by Professor Ian Hall of Queen’s Medical Centre at the University of Nottingham, the research team sought to understand the genetic basis of airflow obstruction and smoking behaviour, which they believe is key to determining what causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Although smoking is a large risk factor for lung disease, the genetic predisposition to certain diseases could explain why some smokers do not develop any lung issues .
The study sampled individuals from the UK Biobank with the best, average or the poorest lung function among heavy smokers and never smokers.
The project involved 152,030 people of white, European ancestry, who were either heavy smokers (46,758 people) or never smokers (105,272).
Using levels of Forced Expiratory Volume (FEV) as a key indicator, the team discovered six independent genetic variants associated with lung health and COPD. Five independent genetic variants were discovered which were associated with heavy smoking. This could be useful in the prevention of COPD and other smoking-related diseases.
The findings provide new insight into the specific mechanisms underlying airflow obstruction, COPD and tobacco addiction. They reveal novel genetic causes of lung function and smoking behavior and provide evidence of shared genetic architecture underlying airflow obstruction across individuals, regardless of smoking behavior and other airway diseases.
Professor Martin Tobin, from the University of Leicester, told BBC News: “There doesn't appear to be any kind of magic bullet that would give anyone guaranteed protection against tobacco smoke - they would still have lungs that were unhealthier than they would be had they been a non-smoker.
“The strongest thing that people can do to affect their future health in terms of COPD and also smoking-related disease like cancer and heart disease is to stop smoking.”
He also added that these findings offered “fantastic new clues about how the body works that we really had little idea about before and it's those things that are likely to lead to some really exciting breakthroughs for drug development.”