A factor that causes cancer may actually help prevent pulmonary fibrosis, researchers at China’s Jilin Provincial Cancer Hospital say.

The protein, called TIAM1, is found in higher levels in mouse models of lung fibrosis and human cells exposed to fibrotic stimuli, but experiments showed that it acted to prevent maturation of fibrosis-forming fibroblast cells.

The study, “TIAM1 inhibits lung fibroblast differentiation in pulmonary fibrosis,” appeared in the journal Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine.

In a first round of experiments, researchers used mice exposed to the fibrosis-triggering chemical bleomycin. They noted higher levels of TIAM1 protein in the fibrotic lung tissue of these animals — a finding they could confirm in human fibroblast cells exposed to the profibrotic factor TGF-beta.