Gene mutations in some people who drink and smoke put them at an increased risk of developing chronic pancreatitis, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine in the US said.
Smoking and drinking are known to be strong risk factors for chronic pancreatitis but not everyone who smokes or drinks damages their pancreas.
“Our new study identifies gene variants, which when combined with lifestyle factors make people susceptible to chronic pancreatitis and may be useful to prevent patients from developing it,” said David Whitcomb, chief of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at Pitt’s School of Medicine.
The 12-year study provides insight into why some people develop this painful and debilitating inflammatory condition while most heavy smokers or drinkers do not appear to suffer any problems with it.
For the study, researchers evaluated gene profiles, and alcohol and smoking habits of more than 1,000 people with either chronic pancreatitis or recurrent acute pancreatitis, and an equivalent number of healthy volunteers.
The researchers took a closer look at a gene called CTRC, which can protect pancreatic cells from injury caused by premature activation of trypsin, a digestive enzyme secreted inside the pancreas instead of the intestine.
They found that a certain variant of the CTRC gene was a strong risk factor for alcohol- or smoking-associated chronic pancreatitis.
This finding presents doctors with a window of opportunity to intervene in the diseases process.
“When people come to the hospital with acute pancreatitis, we could screen for this gene variant and do everything possible to help those who have quit smoking and drinking, as well as test new treatments,” Whitcomb added.
The findings were published in the journal Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology.