Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease increases ageing process by decades.

Researchers have discovered that a common lung condition can accelerate the ageing process by decades.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an inflammation of the airways, leading to damage of the lung’s air sacs. It is most commonly caused by heavy smoking.

The collaborative study, involving the universities of Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Nottingham and GSK R&D on behalf of the ECLIPSE study investigators, measured a breakdown of elastin, a protein responsible for the elasticity of many tissues like the lungs, arteries and skin. The loss of elastin fibres can compromise the structure of the lungs, increase the stiffness of blood vesicles and causes wrinkles, all of which are features of ageing.

Elastin usually has an extra-long half-life, which means elastin protein produced and assembled during tissue development will function for most of our lifespan, unless affected by genetic or environmental factors. 

The researchers thought that this could be considered as a measurement for the rate of ageing. The study investigated how smoking and COPD affect the relationship between the rate of elastin degradation and chronological age.

In the paper, published in the European Respiratory Journal, they have found that having COPD increases the rate of elastin degradation. Researchers discovered a 50 year old COPD sufferer could have the same ageing process of an unaffected 70 year old.

Lead researcher Dr Jeffery Huang from the University of Dundee said, “This data is very clear cut. Smoking makes our body age faster, and when it starts to affect lung function the ageing process is accelerated.

“Ultimately the message is to avoid smoking, especially since we also discovered smoking can increase the ageing process by six years.”

The researchers used a mix of non-smokers, smokers and sufferers of COPD in the study.

It is estimated that 1.2 million people are living with COPD in the UK, making it the second most common lung disease.

For media enquiries contact:
Cara Longmuir
Media Relations Officer
University of Dundee
Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4HN
Tel: +44 (0)1382 385243