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Vitamin A derivative reverses emphysema in rats

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May 27, 1997
Web posted at: 10:09 p.m. EDT (0209 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the first time, researchers have reversed emphysema in lab animals using a derivative of vitamin A. It is the first promise for a non-surgical treatment of the chronic, debilitating disease that destroys the air sacs of the lungs.

Drs. Gloria De Carlo Massaro and Donald Massaro of Georgetown University, who conducted the study, treated rats with retinoic acid, a form of vitamin A. The damaged air sacs in the lungs of the rats were restored to normal size and number.

The research is published in the May issue of Nature Medicine.

Dr. Claude Lenfant, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (part of the NIH), says "this is the first time that anyone has identified a means of reversing emphysema. It represents the first step in improving our understanding of the role of retinoic acid and similar agents" in this type of research.

Dr. Lenfant cautions, "a great deal more basic research is needed before we can even begin to think about applying this to humans."

Emphysema -- which leads to shortness of breath and, eventually, death -- affects about 2 million Americans and kills 17,000 in the United States each year. Currently, the only treatments for emphysema are lung transplant and surgery to remove diseased portions of the lung.

Approximately 80 to 90 percent of emphysema cases and similar conditions are caused by smoking, according to the American Lung Association. A smoker is ten times more likely than a non-smoker to die of lung disease.

 
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