Future Meds May Curb Smoke Damage
> 1/19/2009 3:52:17 PM

Naming changes in genetic expression as the culprits behind the ravages of long-term smoking habits, researchers now propose a pill that could slow, prevent or even reverse the damage caused by cigarettes. Boston University School of Medicine researchers recently identified 28 varieties of molecule that occur with far greater frequency in the throats and lungs of longtime smokers: these mutated particles are the direct product of smoke damage. They fall into the microRNA category: microscopic regulatory bodies that control the expression of various genes by binding to them and effectively flipping their biological "switches" into the active position. Previous experiments centered on the manipulation of microRNA molecules have proven surprisingly successful in, for example, lowering problem cholesterol levels and preventing the infection of healthy cells by their diseased counterparts by blocking or de-activating certain strands of microRNA. 


The genetic changes in which these microRNAs play such a pivotal role include the aforementioned degradation of tissues and the eventual development of malignant growths and cancers. One in particular serves to protect the tissues lining our airways from the oxidization (burning) damage caused by smoking. After long-term smoke exposure, the protective mechanism can no longer adequately repair these tissues, but the bodies of subjects provided with a steady supplement of this particular microRNA type may prove more resilient. Restoring the levels of materials depleted by smoke exposure may also repair the internal safety mechanisms they control, minimizing the damages of current smoking and halting the development of tissues damaged by past exposure. 



The researchers' proposal, in its simplest form, holds that by chemically tweaking the microRNAs and controlling their means of genetic expression, future medications will be able trick the body, rendering it incapable of recognizing the damage done and preventing the subsequent rise of cancer-prone organic material. Of course, the possibility that a medication may be able to eliminate the negative effects of smoking is a very mixed proposition. And the physical impossibility of reversing all damage leaves us skeptical. 


Smokers should realize that, even if and when such medications come to be, they  cannot serve to render this destructive habit harmless. As the report notes, "a test could also be developed that tells smokers how much damage they are doing to their lungs." This would, by most measures, be a far more effective development - the precise depiction of the devastation caused by smoking can also be one of its greatest deterrents.

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