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Three new research centres to investigate fungal infections, Pseudomonas and lung clearance

We’re proud to announce that the Cystic Fibrosis Trust is funding three new Strategic Research Centres that will begin this autumn. This £2.2m investment over three years will involve 20 researchers from five different countries, who will tackle research priorities such as more effective treatments for lung infections and more effective, tailored treatments to improve lung clearance.

Exploring a new approach to tackling fungal infections

Approximately 15% of people with CF will contract the fungal lung infection Aspergillus fumigatus, which can accelerate the decline in lung health. Treatment is difficult, as the bug is becoming resistant to current anti-fungal drugs.

Some people infected with Aspergillus will develop complications known as allergic bronchiopulmonary aspergilliosis (ABPA) and aspergillosis bronchitis (AB) respectively. Not enough is known about how these complications develop and why some people with CF will develop them and some won’t.

In this Trust-funded programme of research, Dr Darius Armstrong-James, based at Imperial College London, will lead a collaboration of researchers based in London, Aberdeen, Manchester, Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and Worcester, Massachusetts in the USA, to explore a new approach to Aspergillus treatment and gain a better understanding of the related complications. The aim of the programme is to develop a personalised approach to treating infections.

Why does Pseudomonas like the CF lung?

As you read this, there are hundreds of chemical reactions taking place in your body. These reactions are a normal part of day to day life. In the same way, there are lots of chemical reactions taking place in bacteria, to allow them to grow and survive. Current antibiotics only work on a small proportion of the chemical reactions of the bacteria they’re targeting. An emerging area of research is to develop drugs to target smarter chemical reactions within bacteria, that haven’t been targeted by drugs before. The aim is to treat the infections and also to avoid future antibiotic resistance.

Dr Martin Welch and colleagues will be using this approach in their new Trust-funded SRC to design new drugs for Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the most common bacterial infection found in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis. As well as looking for specific chemical reactions to target within Pseudomonas, Professor Welch is also hoping to address (and hopefully answer) an unanswered question in CF research: why does this bacteria grow and survive so well specifically in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis?

Dr Welch said: “We know that people with CF are particularly susceptible to Pseudomonas infections. We’d like to know what makes it move in, what it eats and how it uses the food to grow and survive. Understanding the answers to these questions will give important clues to the design of new, more effective antibiotics.”

Understanding lung clearance in more detail

Cells that line the lungs have an efficient system for catching and clearing away toxins that we breathe in. This is based on tiny hair-lined cells sweeping away liquid containing any trapped particles and bacteria. This process, called lung clearance, depends on many different biochemical and physiological processes to work correctly, many of which go wrong in cystic fibrosis.

In this SRC programme Professor Pietro Cicuta at the University of Cambridge will investigate parts of this clearance process that are under-explored. Specifically, he and the multi-disciplinary SRC team will study the physics of how the hairs on the outside of the cells beat. They will also study the properties of the liquid layer that the hairs beat away, a process that ordinarily should keep the lungs clean.

A more detailed understanding of lung clearance could explain differences in symptoms in people with CF with the same genotype, leading to opportunities to tailor treatments accordingly. Identifying ways to improve lung clearance could lead to the development of treatments that work for anyone with CF, irrespective of their genotype.

Please donate today to help us to continue to fund ground-breaking research into infections like Pseudomonas and Aspergillus.

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