A new discovery may lead to a treatment for improving lung function in smokers.

Professor Gary Anderson from the University of Melbourne and his international research team identified that the protein SAA plays a key role in chronic inflammation and lung damage and inhibits the natural effort of the lung to repair itself after smoking has stopped.

The protein SAA is normally produced in the liver, but researchers found very high levels in the lungs of Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients.

The researchers believe the discovery could lead to a dual treatment for patients suffering from COPD, a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe and is mostly caused by excessive smoking. The treatment would switch off the SAA function in the lungs then add a synthetic form of a natural healing agent currently in clinical development in the U.S.

The discovery is published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.