Genetic link found between two chronic lung diseases

26 April 2016

New research indicates that there could be a genetic link between chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

A new paper from the University of Yale has demonstrated that two diseases – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) – share more than just similar causes. They also share some of the same ‘genetic network’.

Within the UK, it’s estimated that about 1.2 million people have been diagnosed with COPD; 30,000 have been diagnosed with IPF. Whilst the two diseases share many risk factors, they have different effects on the body. COPD is characterised by the destruction of lung tissue and blockages in the airways; IPF causes excessive scarring within the lungs, thickening the walls and restricting oxygen absorption. Both diseases have been linked to lung cancer, a condition which is commonly found in sufferers of either disease.

The study, published online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, details the work of the team, who took samples from patients with the diseases, and used RNA sequencing to analyse genetic changes within the infected lungs, and compared their results to un-infected lungs. Their work uncovered a "shared molecular network related to the… p53 / hypoxia pathway in both conditions."

As well as representing one of the first comprehensive descriptions of the lung transcriptome, the team believe that their findings could demonstrate that this shared network forms the basis of a "core pulmonary injury response", but urge caution, emphasising the need for further research.

If such a shared response is proven, it w ould have implications for future drug development, and potentially for our understanding of other lung diseases including cancer.

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