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Common drug halts lung damage in emphysema

15.05.2008
An antibiotic commonly used to treat acne can prevent tissue damage caused by lung diseases such as emphysema, researchers have found.

A team of researchers from the Universities of Leeds and California, San Diego, studying a protein called VEGF have found that doxycyline - used to treat common ailments such as acne, sinusitis and urinary tract infections – also boosts the body’s ability to protect against damage to the lungs.

VEGF helps to maintain healthy lung tissue and emphysema sufferers are found to have unusually low levels of the protein. Dr Harry Rossiter from Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences explains: “In healthy people, the lungs have an active restorative system keeping them healthy, but in some lung diseases, the body’s natural protective processes are inhibited, partly as a result of low levels of the VEGF protein.”

In experiments, Dr Rossiter and his US colleagues reduced the levels of VEGF in the lungs of mice whilst simultaneously administering doxycycline. The researchers found that lung damage was minimal in these mice, compared with the control group which was not treated with the drug.

Ellen C Breen PhD from the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego says: “The images that we have of the lungs of mice that have been treated with doxycycline are startlingly different to those that we didn’t treat. VEGF-deficient lungs show vast pockets of tissue damage when untreated and greatly reduced damage when treated with doxycycline.”

The next step for research team is to try similar experiments with different drugs, with a view to trying to find one that will help the body rebuild lung tissue that has already died.

Dr Breen stresses that whilst the experiments show that doxycycline clearly has a role to play in preventing lung tissue damage, it is too early to say whether these findings would have a preventative role for humans with a genetic predisposition to lung disease.

“It’s also important to remember that we were treating the mice with the drug whilst inducing the symptoms of lung disease, so this is by no means a cure,” she says.

This research was funded by the Worldwide Universities Network and the US based Tobacco Related Disease Research Program and the findings are published in the current issue of the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry.

1. Doxycycline treatment prevents alveolar destruction in VEGF-deficient mouse lung is at http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/117877627/abstract . A copy of the paper is available on request.

2.Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (lung disease) is the fifth most common cause of death in the UK, according to the Medical Research Council. These diseases include emphysema and bronchitis and are characterised by a narrowing of the airways, caused by the death of lung tissue. Lung disease kills more than 27,000 people a year in the UK alone and around 85 per cent of these deaths are caused by smoking.

3. Dr Harry Rossiter is a lecturer in exercise physiology in the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences.

4. The Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds is one of the largest in the UK, with over150 academic staff and over 400 postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students. The Faculty has been awarded research grants totalling some £60M and funders include charities, research councils, the European Union and industry. Each of the major units in the Faculty has the highest Grade 5 rated research according to the last government (HEFCE) Research Assessment Exercise, denoting research of international standing. The Faculty is also consistently within the top three for funding from the government’s research councils, the BBSRC and NERC. www.fbs.leeds.ac.uk

5. The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK with more than 30,000 students from 130 countries. With a turnover approaching £450m, Leeds is one of the top ten research universities in the UK, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. It was placed 80th in the 2007 Times Higher Education world universities league table. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.

6. The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) is one of the ten campuses in the world-renowned University of California system – one of the top institutions in the nation for higher education and research. UCSD Health Sciences comprises the School of Medicine, the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences,and the UCSD Medical Center, with more than 900 faculty physicians and scientists, 7,500 staff members, more than 600 medical and pharmacy students, and a health system including two hospitals and a cancer center that care for approximately 125,000 patients annually. The UCSD School of Medicine is ranked 5th in the nation among public medical schools and 14th overall by U.S. News and World Report (2006).

7. The Tobacco Related Disease Research Program supports research that focuses on the prevention, causes and treatment of tobacco related disease and the reduction of the human and economic costs of tobacco use in California. Its goals are to fund excellent research that addresses all aspects of tobacco use, to widely disseminate the research findings through a range of media, to encourage and support new scientific infrastructures and networks critical for a comprehensive approach to tobacco control and to serve as an information resource for those interested in issues of tobacco control. http://www.trdrp.org

8. The Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) is a partnership of 16 research-led universities from Europe, North America, South East Asia and Australia. The WUN alliance exists to make significant advances in knowledge and understanding in areas of current global concern. By fostering and encouraging collaboration between members, WUN brings together the experience, equipment and expertise necessary to tackle the big issues currently facing societies, governments, corporations and education. http://www.wun.ac.uk

Jo Kelly | alfa
Further information:
http://www.leeds.ac.uk

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