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Genes unlock secret to cigarette addiction

ABC RADIO AUStralia Updated May 14, 2010 09:52:37

An international team of researchers has found that genes may have a role to play in how difficult it is for a smoker to quit. Genetic variants could also determine how many cigarette they smoke. Three similar papers based on studies of more than 140-thousand people have been published recently in the journal Nature Genetics.

Presenter: Ashley Hall
Speaker: Kari Stefansson, who heads up deCODE, an Icelandic company which specialises in genetic data-mining

KARI STEFANSSON: These variance in the sequence that we have discovered do not have impact on whether you begin to smoke or not. But if you begin to smoke, if you smoke more, if you have this variance. If you have this variance it's more difficult for you to quit, but it does not have impact on whether you begin to smoke or not.

ASHLEY HALL: So is there something that we can learn from this genetic variance that might help people to quit? Is there a way of perhaps developing a treatment down the track?

KARI STEFANSSON: Of course when you find variance in the sequence of certain genes that are predisposed to a disease it always raises the possible that you could use them as targets for drug development.

So that certainly is a possibility but first and foremost it shows that even when it comes to things like addiction to nicotine there is a contribution, significant contribution by genetics and it tells us that the free will. There's so much celebrated free will, it may perhaps be a mixture of illusion and reality.

ASHLEY HALL: So perhaps people will use this as an excuse not to quit? They'll say that it's predetermined in my genes.

KARI STEFANSSON: No, I, so many things are predetermined in your genes but it doesn't provide you with any excuse it only provides you with an explanation. But if you are genetically predisposed to smoking, you have more reasons not to begin to smoke. So rather than giving you excuses it gives you a reason.

ASHLEY HALL: And that's because you're likely to be also predisposed to cancer?

KARI STEFANSSON: Because if you're predisposed to smoking you are predisposed to lung cancer, there's no question about it we have proven that beyond reasonable doubt.

So I insist that knowing that you are genetically predisposed to things like nicotine dependence, that it is not giving you any worthy excuse it gives you a reason not to smoke. And I think that knowing that you have a genetic predisposition just not make the genetic predisposition, it is there to begin with, all right, and I that you're always better knowing yourself in more detail than not.

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