Kleenex-Makers Despair: Wash. U. Scientists Figure Out How to Halt Snot Production

Snot has some uses. It makes a great punchline if you're telling a joke to a child between the ages of four and seven. It's also a good excuse for getting out of work or holiday parties. But it very easily becomes too much of a not-so-great-to-begin-with thing. Which is why a team of researchers at Washington University Medical School got to work trying to figure out what causes excessive snot production and how to stop it.

They think they've mostly succeeded -- at least, they've published their research in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and have even filed for a provisional patent. Could it be this thing is actually for real?

The investigation began when lead researcher Dr. Michael J. Holtzman began thinking about asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), two of the most common and fatal respiratory conditions.

"There is good evidence that what kills people with severe COPD or asthma is mucus obstructing the airway," Holtzman said in a statement. "It's a huge unmet medical problem and is only increasing in this country and throughout the world."

Holtzman and his team decided to examine excessive production on a cellular level and figure out which molecules, proteins and enzymes were responsible. They came up with three culprits: an enzyme called MAPK13 which gives an extra boost to a signaling molecule called CLCA1, which tells a protein called IL-13 to turn on the major mucus-producing gene in airway cells.

The researchers figured that if they managed to get MAPK13 under control, they might be able to stop excessive mucus production.

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