Cancer drugs may potentially work as effective treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) -- a type of lung disease characterised by long-term breathing problems, and poor airflow, according to a study.
Researchers, including those from the University of Sheffield in the UK, assessed the effect of drugs used to treat different cancer types on lung damage in people living with COPD.
According to the study, published in the journal eLife, COPD slowly develops over many years, with patients often not being aware they have it until their 40s or 50s.
It said the disease makes breathing progressively more difficult for the patients, with symptoms including breathlessness, coughing, and frequent chest infections.
As part of the study, the scientists screened a library of cancer drugs, and identified a number of compounds which accelerate the death of the immune cells called neutrophils, and promote healing in the lungs.
The findings revealed that specific cancer drugs can inhibit a cell signalling process controlling the death-rate of the harmful neutrophils.
Editing the genes coding for the cell signalling, further decreased inflammation, the scientists reported.
"COPD is usually treated with steroids and airway muscle relaxants which ease symptoms, but there is currently no effective treatment clinically available to counteract the damage it does to the lungs," Lynne Prince study co-author from the University of Sheffield.
"Our research now shows that inhibitors of these cell signalling processes, or ErbB kinases, could have therapeutic potential in neutrophilic inflammatory disease," Prince added.
The scientists believe these drugs may clear the damaging cells from the lungs of people living with COPD, preventing any further damage, and therefore the progression of the disease.
They believe repurposing existing drugs, may be an efficient approach for this.
"We are in desperate need of a new treatment for COPD, millions of people all over the world live with the disease and it has a massive impact on their quality of life, especially as the disease progresses," said study co-author Stephen Renshaw.
Since inflammation caused by the neutrophils is also central to the progression of other chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, the researchers believe the findings may offer insights to more such conditions.