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C. A Blood Test May Measure Lung Damage From Tobacco

Narrator: This is Science Today. A genetic mutation used to measure lung damage from tobacco smoke may someday be measured in blood cells. John Wiencke, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco says such a measurement would be very significant.

Weincke: Because we're not able to get samples of lung tissue directly to assess what's going on in a particular person's lung cells but we can draw a blood sample and it's possible, we think, to measure this form of tobacco damage in the blood.

Narrator: Researchers found people susceptible to lung cancer have a mutation in what's called the p53 tumor suppressor gene. Part of this gene is very sensitive to tobacco, causing detectable mutations called hot spots.

Weincke: We found that there is a very close correspondence between the levels in the blood and levels in the lung. So the blood is sort of a window to look at the damage that's accumulated by smoking in a person's lung.

Narrator: Weincke says such testing is still a long way in the future.

Weincke: But the door is opened and we're looking in.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.