Researchers have found that doxycycline, an antibiotic commonly used to treat acne, can prevent tissue damage caused by emphysema. Doxycycline boosts the body’s ability to protect against damage in the lungs.

Emphysema sufferers have unusually low levels of the protein VEGF, which helps to maintain healthy lung tissue. Researchers found that when mice with reduced levels of VEGF in the lungs were given doxycycline, they suffered minimal lung damage compared with control mice.

“The images that we have of the lungs of mice that have been treated with doxycycline are startlingly different to those that we didn’t treat. VEGF-deficient lungs show vast pockets of tissue damage when untreated and greatly reduced damaged when treated with doxycycline,” says Ellen C Breen, PhD from the school of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

Researchers stress that it is too early to say whether these findings would have a preventive role for humans with a genetic predisposition to lung disease.