Protein May Predict Which Smokers Will Develop COPD

If you follow my writings on a regular basis, you know how deep researchers are getting into COPD research. Sure, some of this research is complex and even confusing. But it’s also exciting. Their most recent finding is a protein that may predict who goes on to develop COPD. Here’s what to know.

What is the protein?

The name of the protein is MUC5AC.

Our bodies are made of cells and each one has your genetic code. There are over 30,000 genes in a typical genetic code. These genes encode (make) proteins. So, every gene in your body makes a specific protein, and these proteins tell cells what to do.1

Today we are interested in a gene called MUC5AC which makes a protein by the same name (MUC5AC). This protein is very important function in maintaining healthy lungs and its job is to create a gel that is secreted by airway epithelial cells. These are cells that line the surfaces of your airways.2

Mucosa and health

Trapping pathogens

This gel is used to form mucus that coats the airway walls. This process forms the mucosa or a “moist-inner lining of airway walls.” A healthy mucosa is important for proper airway cell functioning as it helps to trap any airborne particles or pathogens you might inhale.2-3

How it might relate to COPD

There are other proteins that help make up the gel layer of the mucosa, but researchers think that MUC5AC plays the most significant role as far as our disease is concerned. They have found that MUC5AC levels are higher in those diagnosed with COPD and they believe elevated MUC5AC levels in those who are not yet diagnosed may be a sign of early COPD development in the future.4

Recent study

Former smokers and MUC5AC

Researchers recently carried out a study. They followed people who were current or former smokers and monitored whether or not they had a current diagnosis of COPD. Of those who were former smokers but at high risk for COPD, their MUC5AC levels were normal at the beginning of the study and their lung function did not decline over the three-year period.4

Current smokers and MUC5AC

Of those who were current smokers, MUC5AC levels were elevated and their lung function did decline over the three-year period. This has researchers thinking that elevated MUC5AC levels in current smokers may be an early indicator that lung function will continue to decline and that an eventual diagnosis of COPD may be made.4

Current understanding and potential implications

Currently, cigarette smokers are considered at high risk for developing COPD. Of course, there are other risk factors of COPD as well, such as a family history of COPD. Presently, physicians have no way of predicting which ones in the high-risk category will eventually be diagnosed with COPD. If this research holds true, this may be one way of finding out.

Going forward

Early-stage COPD

People in the early stages of COPD often show no signs and symptoms. Despite some loss of lung function, they may have no trouble breathing at all. This makes it very difficult for doctors to recognize these patients and give them the proper diagnosis they deserve. And, of course, this means they won’t get the treatment that could help slow the progression of COPD. Perhaps the best treatment in the earliest stages is simply quitting smoking.

Helping doctors

So, if this research holds true, it may help doctors recognize who is at risk for developing COPD. This knowledge may cause doctors to take swift actions aimed at encouraging these patients to quit smoking. This, and perhaps some future medicine, may help slow the progression of and perhaps prevent a COPD diagnosis.

Imagine if you were a smoker and your doctor told you that your MUC5AC was elevated. They then said that you will eventually develop COPD if you did not quit smoking right now. Would this be enough wisdom to cause you to quit smoking? Let us know in the comments below.

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