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Research we're funding into understanding and treating lung infections

People with cystic fibrosis (CF) are susceptible to a number of different types of lung infection. Some CF infections are becoming resistant to the antimicrobial drugs that are used to treat them. We’re funding research into different strategies to overcome antimicrobial resistance and fight lung infections.


Lung infections can be difficult to treat and can increase the burden of care, leading to long stays in hospital. Left untreated, these infections can trigger permanent lung damage, meaning people are more breathless and have less energy to do day-to-day activities.

To tackle lung infections, we’re funding research into:

Earlier diagnosis

Early diagnosis of infections can mean shorter courses of treatment and less lung damage for people with cystic fibrosis.

Getting an early diagnosis of an infection is a balance of testing for the presence of the infection at the right time, gathering a sample to test for the infection, getting a speedy response when people are tested and then being confident that the test is accurate.

Through our ‘Personalised approach to Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PAPA)’ Strategic Research Centre (SRC)  we’re funding novel ways to detect Pseudomonas, including using medical detection dogs to positively identify infected samples, and testing for the presence of infection in the breath of people with cystic fibrosis. We’re co-funding two projects to develop rapid point of care tests through our Venture and Innovation Awards. We are also supporting studies to diagnose Non tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) group of infections and the fungal infection Aspergillus fumigatus.

Read more about research we’re funding on this topic, through our strategic research centre (SRC)and Venture and Innovation Award (VIA) funding schemes:

Understanding how infections work

Due to antimicrobial resistance, we’re running out of effective treatments for the bugs that affect people with cystic fibrosis. The Trust is funding research to develop the next generation of treatments and to do this, we need to understand:

  • how the bugs grow and survive;
  • why do they do so well in the CF lung;
  • what effect one infection has on another; and
  • what makes infection-causing bugs so dominant in the presence of so many ‘good’ bacteria within the lung microbiome.

Dr Martin’s Welch’s SRC is looking at why Pseudomonas can take such a hold in the CF lung in comparison to healthy lungs. His team are investigating how much energy the bug needs and which of the hundreds of biochemical reactions underway in Pseudomonas are essential for its growth in the CF lung.

Pseudomonas infection involves thousands of individual Pseudomonas bacteria working together. When their population increases above a certain level, they change their activities and organise a slimy defensive shield known as a ‘biofilm’ to protect themselves from attack by the body’s natural defences and from antibiotics. Research we’re funding within our Venture and Innovation Awards is investigating more about these strategies and how they can be overcome.

Also working on Pseudomonas, Professor Jane Davies and colleagues within the ‘Personalised approach to Pseudomonas’ SRC  are investigating the ‘survival strategies’ of the bug, including how it works to dominate other bacteria and fight off the body’s attempts to clear the infection.

In treating both Pseudomonas and NTM infections, it’s important to understand the balance of targeting the disease-causing infections, without eliminating other ‘good’ bacteria that can reduce the lung damaging effects – in other words, finding out whether antibiotics kill their bacterial allies in ‘friendly fire’. We’re funding a number of VIA projects investigating the balance of bacteria within the lungs.

Read more about research we’re funding on this topic, through our strategic research centre (SRC)and Venture and Innovation Award (VIA) funding schemes:

Better ways to treat infections

Within our UK CF Innovation Hub researchers in Cambridge are systematically studying the genetic makeup of two of the most serious CF lung infections, Pseudomonas and M. abscessus (one of the NTM group of infections), to increase understanding of how they damage the CF lung. These results are shared within the Innovation Hub team where new drugs can be ‘built’ from scratch using cutting edge ‘fragment-based drug design’ (FBDD) approaches. FBDD is method of joining together groups of small chemicals (fragments) to design a more effective drug.

A more in-depth approach to designing new treatments for M abscessus is underway within our ‘Novel Treatments for M abscessus’ SRC. As well as designing drugs by zooming in on the detail of how the bacteria are built, researchers on this SRC are also designing drugs by looking at the bugs overall. They are trying to work out which parts of certain drugs (which fragments) kill growing bacteria, and which parts of these drugs prevent M abscessus from building biofilms.

While it holds great promise, designing new drugs from scratch is a lengthy and expensive process. Another approach to finding new ways to treat infections is to use drugs developed for other conditions. For example our ‘Targeting immunotherapy for fungal infections’ SRC is addressing different stages of the infection and aiming to reduce the inflammation triggered by Aspergillus fumigatus using existing immunotherapies, rather than killing the fungi itself.

A drug called glatiramer acetate, which treats multiple sclerosis (MS) is also being tested to see if it can increase the effectiveness of existing antibiotics for treating Pseudomonas infection.

Sometimes known as ‘antibiotic resistance breakers’, drugs that increase the effectiveness of existing antibiotics  are another active area of research that the Trust is supporting biotech companies to develop through our Venture and Innovation Awards.

Read more about research we’re funding on this topic, through our strategic research centre (SRC)and Venture and Innovation Award (VIA) funding schemes:


Research we fund

We fund research to tackle some of the most pressing issues in CF today. Find out how your donations are making a difference.

What is CF?

Cystic fibrosis, or CF, affects the lungs, digestive system and other organs, and there are around 10,500 people living with it in the UK.

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