Researchers Develop Treatment for Lung Disorder

April 27, 2011 - News Release

Patients with a rare lung disorder may eventually breathe easier with a potential new treatment developed by a research team including University of Guelph scientists.

The group has developed a way to improve therapeutic proteins used to treat various diseases, especially alpha-1 antitrypsin (A1AT) deficiency. Their study appears in a paper published online this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

About 3.4 million people worldwide have this rare genetic disorder, which causes breathing problems, notably emphysema and bronchitis. It can also cause liver cirrhosis and skin inflammation. It occurs when the liver makes too little A1AT, which normally helps protect the lungs from illness and exposure to harmful substances such as tobacco smoke.

The researchers have shown a new way to make A1AT drugs last longer in the body. Currently, patients need frequent injections and high doses, meaning high health-care costs and greater toxicity risks. Patients also treat symptoms with inhalers and medication.

Altering therapeutic proteins to make drugs remain in the body longer may allow for lower dosages and fewer injections, improving patients’ lives and reducing drug costs, said Warren Wakarchuk, one of the study’s authors and an adjunct professor in Guelph’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. He’s also a research officer in the Institute for Biological Sciences at the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa.

Study co-author Lisa Willis, a Guelph PhD student, started the project while working at the NRC with Wakarchuk. The researchers used a bacterial enzyme to alter the A1AT glycoprotein for testing in mice.

Wakarchuk says using bacterial enzymes to make these glycoproteins is better than current chemical processes. He says the long-term goal is to develop better protein-based therapies for A1AT deficiency and for other disorders such as hemophilia.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338,, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982,

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