Possible Therapeutic Target Identified For Silicosis

According to a story from bioengineer.org, a team of researchers from around the world have collaborated and successfully discovered a critical mechanism that leads to lung inflammation following exposure to silica; this can lead to a serious, incurable lung disease called silicosis. The findings, first published in the academic journal Nature Communications, have also lead to a potential therapeutic target for the disease.

About Silicosis

Silicosis, which is also known as miner’s phthisis, potter’s rot, and several other names, is a lung disease that is caused by inhalation of fine silica dust. It is most characterized by inflammation and scarring in the upper regions of the lungs. The disease has become more prevalent over the last century or so, as the introduction of powered cutting and drilling tools that release large amounts of silica dust has become more widespread. Other symptoms of silicosis include cough, fever, cyanosis (blueish skin), damage to the nails, rapid breathing, chest pain, heart disease, fatigue, and shortness of breath. The disease often does not develop until years after exposure, making it more difficult to diagnose; it can also be easily confused with pneumonia or other more common lung diseases; silicosis also increases the risk of tuberculosis. At this juncture, there is no cure for the disease aside from risky lung transplant, and treatment is focused on relieving symptoms and slowing disease progression. To learn more about silicosis, click here.

Research Findings

Silicosis is ultimately a fatal disease. The researchers found that silica in the lungs of mice eventually caused cell death, and the DNA released by the dying cells triggers what is called the STING pathway, a system signals that ultimately leads to the lung inflammation that characterizes silicosis. However, the researchers also discovered a potentially effective treatment, the enzyme DNase I. This enzyme degrades the DNA that dying cells release, preventing the inflammatory process from starting. 

DNase I has already found some use in treating the lung disorder cystic fibrosis, and the authors of the study recommend that clinical trials of the enzyme should begin in order to test the enzyme in silicosis patients.

Check out the original study here.

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