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£130k 'superbug' study targets breakthrough on cystic fibrosis


Queen's University is leading a major study that could help improve the quality of life for thousands of people with Cystic Fibrosis who are affected by a 'superbug' that destroys their lungs.

The £139,000 research grant was awarded to the QUB team of experts by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. The two-year study led by Professor Miguel Valvano, chair of microbiology and infectious diseases at Queen's Centre for Infection and Immunity, will investigate how the immune cells of patients are infected when they contract an "invading bacteria" – Burkholderia Cepacia.

The superbug, resistant to almost all antibiotics, appears to create further mucus build up for CF patients and causes serious lung infections.

The second stage in the project will involve developing a way of testing large numbers of compounds and attempting to find a drug that can effectively treat the superbug.

Dr Janet Allen, director of research at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, described the study as "very important".

"A key part of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust's research strategy is supporting research aimed at finding new ways to treat chronic infection and inflammation in people with cystic fibrosis," she said.

"In people with cystic fibrosis certain bugs are able to turn the body's immune system against itself by disrupting the normal processes for dealing with invaders and causing harmful levels of inflammation.

"They are also very difficult to treat because they are able to block conventional antibiotics."

Prof Valvano said: "We have reached a point in which it may be possible to directly identify molecules that can help immune cells, especially those that engulf bacteria to deal with the intracellular B.cepacia.

"Our research effort will be focused on developing the appropriate procedures that will enable us to screen libraries of chemical compounds to find molecules that can help cystic fibrosis patients' immune cells clear invading bacteria."

Professor Valvano aims to develop a better understanding of how cystic fibrosis affects the normal functioning of cells and how B.cepacia disrupts cell breakdown.

The study comes six months after a new drug, Ivacaftor, trialled in Northern Ireland, showed it will lengthen the lives of some CF sufferers.

It will cost the health service £182,625 every year to supply a person with the drug, which will be available to sufferers aged six or over with the G551D genetic mutation.


Cystic fibrosis is chronically misunderstood, kills thousands of people worldwide and is carried unknowingly in the genes of millions. The faulty gene is carried by more than two million people in the UK, most of whom have no idea. If two carriers have children, there's a one in four chance their child will have the condition, which slowly destroys the lungs and digestive system. Cystic fibrosis directly affects around 10,000 people in the UK – around 500 live with it in Northern Ireland.

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