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Gene 'Switch' May Help Drive Excess Fluid in Lungs

Finding could lead to treatments for bronchitis, asthma, researchers say

TUESDAY, Sept. 15 (HealthDay News) -- The discovery of a genetic switch that makes mucus production go into overdrive could potentially lead to better treatments for chronic lung ailments, a new study says.

Excessive mucus production in the lungs can cause illness or death from asthma, cystic fibrosis, bronchitis, common colds and other illnesses. From a biological perspective, it's unclear why the body creates dangerous levels of mucus, the researchers noted in the Sept. 14 online issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

"Everyone has had a stuffed-up nose and cough after two or three weeks of a bad cold, and most over-the-counter cold medications deal with mucus," said Dr. Jeffrey Whitsett, lead author of the study and the head of neonatology, perinatal and pulmonary biology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, in a hospital news release. "We still don't have effective therapies for removing excess mucus, whether it's someone with a cold or chronic lung disease. That's why we still tap on the chests of kids with cystic fibrosis to try and clear it."

In the study, the researchers found that lung cells convert from good cells to bad -- creating mucus in the process. But if a genetic switch is blocked, they can change back to good cells.

However, Whitsett said it will be several years before researchers can figure out how to develop a new treatment based on the results.

More information

Learn more about cystic fibrosis from the Nemours Foundation.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, news release, Sept. 14, 2009

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