November 3, 2006

Researchers Check If Lungs Are Self-Healing

Researchers from several U.S. universities found evidence that lungs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease attempt to repair themselves.

The researchers found an increased synthesis of elastin, a gene linked to elastic fiber growth, in moderately diseased tissue of COPD patients, the American Physiological Society said in a news release. Elastic fibers allow the lung to expand and contract while breathing.

The finding is important because it could lead to the development of a drug that stimulates genes to grow new alveoli, air sacs that assist in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the lungs and the circulatory system, said the Bethesda, Md.-based organization.

In their preliminary study, the researchers examined diseased lungs removed from end-stage COPD patients who underwent lung transplants, the society said. COPD develops after exposure to toxins such as cigarette smoke resulting in inflammation to the small airways and the destruction of elastic fibers within alveoli.

The team used magnetic resonance imaging to distinguish between moderately and severely affected areas of the lungs, the physiological society said. It found that new elastin synthesis had begun in moderately diseased regions.