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Aussie smoko-proofing drug prevents ill effects of cigs

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Australian boffins have developed a treatment which allows mice to smoke cigarettes without the usual negative health consequences. The method could potentially allow gasper-loving humans to sidestep some of the self-destructive results of their habit.

The key to the business, according to lead cig-boffin Ross Vlahos, is Granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF), an agent released by the lungs when they are exposed to cigarette smoke. GM-CSF causes inflammatory leukocytes to activate in the lungs, which then leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other complaints such as "oxidative stress, emphysema, small airway fibrosis, mucus hypersecretion and progressive airflow limitation".

Vlahos and his team at Melbourne uni decided to tackle this by the use of a blocking agent known as "anti GM-CSF". As called for by tradition, they got hold of a group of mice and dosed half of them with the miracle smoko-proofing drug, and left the others alone. Then all the mice were given "the equivalent of nine cigarettes of smoke each day for four days".

At the end of the test every single mouse was dead. However, this was simply because the boffins had killed them in order to examine their lungs. According to the mouse autopsies, the ones treated with "anti GM-CSF" were in much better nick than the others.

"Cigarette smoke-exposed mice that were treated with an anti-GM-CSF had significantly less lung inflammation in comparison to untreated mice," says Vlahos.

"This indicates that GM-CSF is a key mediator in smoke-induced lung inflammation and its neutralization may have therapeutic implications [for humans] in diseases such as COPD."

It would seem then that in future one may be able to take a shot or a pill and then happily puff away on one's little smoky treat, reassured in the knowledge that one's time in the 40-metre dash will be unaffected and the racking, sweaty, grey-faced smoker's cough will not make an appearance.

Unfortunately Anti GM-CSF isn't a cure-all, as the risk of cancer will still remain.

"Our treatment deals with cigarette smoke-induced lung inflammation involved in COPD, not cancer and other smoking-related ailments. Quitting remains the best and only cure for smoking-related lung disease," warns Vlahos sternly.

The smoko-proofing paper, Neutralizing GM-CSF Inhibits Cigarette Smoke-induced Lung Inflammation, is published online by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, here. ®

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