Sunday, April 13, 2008


Could a gene be responsible for increasing a smoker's addiction to nicotine and even lung cancer? According to genetist Christopher Amos, the discovery of a gene variant on the region of DNA known to encode parts of the nicotine receptor could indicate exactly that. Amos and his team at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, discovered this gene after previous theories as to the link between smoking and genetics.

The variant, possessed by about half of people with European ancestry, may not only sensitise cells to nicotene but also make it harder for smokers to give up the habit. Scientists theorise that the gene variant may directly increase a person's risk of cancer by influencing a cell's response to nicotine or its metabolites. The metabolite of nicotine is thought to stimulate cell division via this particular receptor.

New statistics suggest that smokers possessing one copy of the variant are 30 per cent more likely to develop lung cancer and what's worse, an inheritance of two copies boosts the rick by 80 per cent.

Further studies are to be undertaken as to the effect of the gene variant on people who do not smoke. Whether or not they are subject to lung cancer could determine the usefullness of this mutation in combating cancerous symptoms. If related to lung cancer directly, drugs targeting the nicotine-sensing proteins may be effective against tumours. Similary, if the gene is involved in cigarette addiction, genetic counselling could be a method used to dissuade people from taking up smoking in the first place.

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Phoebe Watt (41416622) - P1

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