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With grant, Wash. U. scientists will study emphysema

By Maria Hickey, KWMU

St. Louis, MO – Researchers at Washington University believe factors other than smoking might cause emphysema, and they'll use a $14.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to establish a center to find out more.

Dr. Michael Holtzman, with Washington University's School of Medicine, says a person's genetics as well as a severe viral lung infection in childhood might both be precursors for emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

That means such diseases may not be fully connected with smoking. "We know some patients who have COPD don't have any significant exposure to cigarette smoke and we know some people who have high levels of exposure to cigarette smoke don't have COPD at all," noted Holtzman, in an interview.

Holtzman says finding out what other factors contribute to the disease could have a big impact on diagnosing and treating emphysema and COPD, but he also cautions against using his study to throw out efforts to quit smoking.

"It certainly doesn't underplay the idea that stopping cigarette smoking is an important part of stopping and treating the disease, but knowing there are these other components; one can start to think about better diagnostic and better therapeutic approaches."

Holtzman says it's difficult to know how long the research will take.


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