DENVER - We have all heard people downplay the dangers of smoking by describing the friend or relative who has smoked three packs a day for 25 years and is still healthy as an ox. It's true that some smokers are lucky enough to escape serious lung disease. But it is also true that approximately one quarter of all smokers eventually develop emphysema and/or chronic bronchitis, collectively known as chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD). Researchers at National Jewish Medical and Research Center are trying to learn what separates the smokers who stay healthy from the ones who develop COPD. They believe the answers lie in the smokers' genes.
"We believe a person's genes cause them to produce a protein that protects their lungs against smoke-induced damage, or one that makes them more susceptible to damage by smoke," said National Jewish pulmonologist Barry Make, M.D. "We are looking for genetic differences between people who appear susceptible to COPD and those who are not."
Dr. Make and his colleagues at National Jewish are joining researchers at nine other medical centers around the world in the largest study ever aimed at understanding the genetics of COPD. Discovery of genes associated with COPD could lead to better understanding of the disease, potentially new treatments and better warnings for susceptible people. The National Jewish research team is currently enrolling patients in the study, which is funded by GlaxoSmithKline.
The National Jewish research team is hoping to enroll as many as 600 families in its COPD genetics study. The researchers are looking for people between the ages of 45 and 65 who have been diagnosed with COPD and have either one living brother or sister who has also been diagnosed with COPD, or two siblings who smoke or have smoked in the past. The original COPD patient and his or her brother and/or sisters will all become part of the study.