These diseases are major international healthcare burdens. The World Health Organisation estimates that COPD alone will become the world's third biggest killer by 2010. Until now, nobody knew what caused these diseases and there is still no cure.
Using mice, Dr. Matthias Ernst at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Melbourne who lead the national research effort, found the clue in an enzyme called Hck that plays a role in activating cells called macrophages that form an important part of the immune system in the lung.
By altering the enzyme slightly, Dr. Ernst and a University of Melbourne team discovered the macrophages went crazy and the mice went on to develop progressive lung disease.
"Now that we understand the mechanism we can start developing effective treatments," says University of Melbourne, Associate Professor Gary Anderson, who worked with Dr. Ernst's team.
The research is published in the latest edition of the prestigious Journal of Experimental Medicine and is a collaborative research effort between the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, the University of Melbourne, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute, The Institute for Child Health Research in Perth and the Cooperative Research Centre for Chronic Inflammatory Disease.
Previous research in the USA has dismissed Hck as largely redundant in the control of macrophage activity.
"Because of the USA research, nobody in the world suspected that Hck could be linked to serious lung disease. Our results show otherwise," says Anderson.
Macrophages will devour and destroy foreign bodies entering the lung tissue. In serious lung diseases, however, these macrophages become overactive triggering a cascade of ev
Contact: Jason Major
University of Melbourne