Around 20 years ago, a gene was discovered by medical scientists that until recently, has been misclassified, and more recent studies shed more light on it. Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis published the findings of their study in eLife, an online medical publication. This gene was found to be a common link between asthma and COPD and a few different kinds of cancer.
On the surface, these diseases have some things in common. Shortness of breath, wheezing the inflammation of the lungs and excess mucus production in the lungs. The thing these have in common with this gene, in particular, is mucus production.
The gene is called Calcium-activated chloride channel regulator 1, or CLCA1 for short. If you're not a genetic scientist, it can be hard to understand the details of how this gene works.
However, one definite piece of information from the study suggests that when this gene is present, it makes the occurrence of a common symptom of these different diseases more probable.
One interest aspect of these findings is how new genetic treatments might be underway to help people with these diseases. For example, if someone has cystic fibrosis, their mucus is too thick and sticky. Researchers have hinted toward using this gene to help fix that problem.
This may also open doors for treating diseases like asthma at a genetic level in the near future. Such treatments are still under scrutiny and are being researched before they can even begin to be used in the experimental stages.
Someday, they might be able to effectively treat people with asthma, COPD or cancer with gene therapy. This will be exciting, even if they are only able to lessen the symptoms, and not get off them completely.
Unlike COPD, which is most commonly caused by smoking cigarettes, asthma is mostly hereditary, but can also be developed from environmental factors. If a young person is diagnosed with asthma, it can only be treated by medications. Sometimes it will go away as the child becomes an adult, and sometimes it can be developed in adulthood. Either way, being able to treat it on the genetic level will be a huge breakthrough.
COPD might not be able to be treated genetically since the lung tissue itself has been damaged. However, lung transplants can be an option for those with severe COPD, if there is a donor available. Currently, moderate COPD can only be treated with medication and by adopting a healthier lifestyle.
Gene therapy and manipulating the building blocks of our cells might not be possible quite yet, but findings like this bring us closer each step of the way.
Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information about COPD, asthma or cancer, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.
Page last updated: October 5, 2018
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. Common genes underlying asthma and COPD? Genome-wide analysis on the Dutch hypothesis. Published: July 3, 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4217133/
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. Genetic evidence linking lung cancer and COPD: a new perspective. Published: July 18, 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3681182/