An antibiotic commonly used to treat acne can prevent tissue damage caused by lung diseases such as emphysema, researchers have found.
A team of researchers from the Universities of Leeds and California, San Diego, studying a protein called VEGF have found that doxycyline - used to treat common ailments such as acne, sinusitis and urinary tract infections - also boosts the body's ability to protect against damage to the lungs.
VEGF helps to maintain healthy lung tissue and emphysema sufferers are found to have unusually low levels of the protein. Dr Harry Rossiter from Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences explains: "In healthy people, the lungs have an active restorative system keeping them healthy, but in some lung diseases, the body's natural protective processes are inhibited, partly as a result of low levels of the VEGF protein."
In experiments, Dr Rossiter and his US colleagues reduced the levels of VEGF in the lungs of mice whilst simultaneously administering doxycycline. The researchers found that lung damage was minimal in these mice, compared with the control group which was not treated with the drug.
Ellen C Breen PhD from the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego says: "The images that we have of the lungs of mice that have been treated with doxycycline are startlingly different to those that we didn't treat. VEGF-deficient lungs show vast pockets of tissue damage when untreated and greatly reduced damage when treated with doxycycline."
The next step for research team is to try similar experiments with different drugs, with a view to trying to find one that will help the body rebuild lung tissue that has already died.
Dr Breen stresses that whilst the experiments show that doxycycline clearly has a role to play in preventing lung tissue damage, it is too early to say whether these findings would have a preventative role for humans with a genetic predisposition to lung disease.
"It's also important to remember that we were treating the mice with the drug whilst inducing the symptoms of lung disease, so this is by no means a cure," she says.
This research was funded by the Worldwide Universities Network and the US based Tobacco Related Disease Research Program and the findings are published in the current issue of the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry.