Can the immune system recover from the effects of smoking?

15th March 2021 – by Paz García

The immune system of quitters is almost completely restored to a healthy state, according to the latest research from TwinsUK in collaboration with the Italian Institute for Genomic Medicine and the University of Turin.

Smoking kills more than 8 million people every year across the world and is linked to a range of diseases, including several types of cancer.

This study is the first to show the effect of smoking on specific cell types, building on previous evidence that smoking impacts the overall levels of key immune system cells.

First author Giulia Piaggeschi from the Italian Institute for Genomic Medicine and the University of Turin said:

“We’ve known for a long time that smoking is bad for your health. The good news from this study, however, is that by stopping smoking, your immune system cells are almost completely restored back to normal.”

The team carried out a detailed analysis of the immune system cells in 358 healthy women from TwinsUK, some of whom were smokers while others had never smoked or were ex-smokers.

The researchers found that smokers had lower levels of certain protective immune cells and higher levels of immune cells that cause chronic inflammation.

Individuals who had quit smoking however had immune cells levels back to normal, with the exception of only two specific types which remained altered.

On the findings, senior author Dr Alessia Visconti from TwinsUK, King’s College London, said:

“We now need further research to understand how these changes in immune cells may be linked with smoking- and immune-related diseases such as cancer and autoimmune conditions.”

Piaggeschi et al. (2021) Immune trait shifts in association with tobacco smoking: a study in healthy women. Front. Immunol.

Moles and melanoma – is the sun the real culprit after all?

14th August 2019 – by Paz Garcia

Genes have a greater influence than previously thought not only on the number of moles you have but also where they are on your body, according to new research from TwinsUK.

Moles are a major risk factor for melanoma skin cancer, the fifth most common cancer in the UK. Approximately 13,500 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year.

The researchers studied more than 3,200 twins.

The team found that women had more moles on their legs than men, who previous studies have found tend to have more moles on their head, neck and trunk. This is in line with increased melanoma risk for men and women in these particular body sites.

The researchers found that for women, the number of moles on their legs is 69% due to genes, compared to 26% for the trunk.

The genes that influence mole number and location are also linked with the development of melanoma.

Lead researcher Dr Alessia Visconti, from the Department of Twin Research at King’s College London, explained:

“We’ve known for some time that moles are a major risk factor for melanoma skin cancer. With this research we now know that not only the number but also the location of moles on the body is in large part due to genetics.

“Our results add to previous evidence that indicates greater sun exposure alone is unlikely to be the reason why women have more moles on their legs.

“While sun exposure does contribute to mole count and skin cancer risk, policymakers, campaigners and health researchers will need to take the genetic element and sex into account when developing strategies to prevent and treat skin cancer.”

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