Public Release: 

Queen's scientist to target Cystic Fibrosis superbug

£139,000 grant from Cystic Fibrosis Trust for Queen's University Belfast

Queen's University Belfast

Queen's University Belfast is to lead a £139,000 study into the way cystic fibrosis sufferers are affected by a superbug that destroys lung function.

The research, funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust will investigate how the immune cells of cystic fibrosis patients are infected when they contract Burkholderia Cepacia (B.cepacia). The superbug can colonise in people with cystic fibrosis causing serious lung damage.

The two-year study will be coordinated by Professor Miguel Valvano, Chair of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Queen's Centre for Infection and Immunity.

There are around 500 people living with cystic fibrosis in Northern Ireland, and the B.cepacia bug affects around six per cent of people with the illness.

Professor 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 in people with cystic fibrosis. The second stage in the project will involve developing a quick and efficient way of testing large numbers of compounds with a view to finding a drug that can effectively treat B.cepacia.

Dr Janet Allen, Director of Research at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said: "Professor Miguel Valvano is one of the world's leading experts in this field. His molecular research aimed at dissecting key bacterial components that directly interact with host cells to cause infections is internationally recognised.

"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. 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."


Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke at Queen's Communications Office Tel: +44(0)28 9097 5320 or email or Louise Banks at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust on +44(0)208 290 7912 / +44(0)7989 436 204 or email:

Notes to Editors:

  • This grant aims to establish how cystic fibrosis affects macrophage cells infected with B. cepacia and to develop associated drug discovery tools. The objective is to enable the development of more effective treatments for B. cepacia and other emerging CF pathogens. Further information about this study can be found at:

  • Professor Miguel Valvano was appointed Chair of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Queen's University Belfast in July 2012. His team, at the Centre for Infection and Immunity (CII) based at Queen's School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, explores infections that cause major health risks for children and young adults with cystic fibrosis. For more information visit

  • Professor Miguel Valvano leads the world-class team, building on pioneering work at the University of Western Ontario, funded by CF Canada

  • A copy of the research strategy is available to download from

  • Cystic fibrosis is chronically misunderstood, kills thousands worldwide and is carried unknowingly in the genes of millions. It's often invisible to the naked eye yet destroys lives, stopping them short, inflicting hardship and distress on patients, their families and carers. Cystic fibrosis directly affects around 10,000 people in the UK.

  • Fighting it is a battle we must win. That's why we must keep working for and fundraising for change. That's why we must develop better treatments and, ultimately, a cure.

  • Because cystic fibrosis is beatable.

  • The faulty gene is carried by over 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.

  • We're here to beat it and make a daily difference to the lives of those with cystic fibrosis, and the people who care for them. Find out more at: or call our helpline 0300 373 1000.

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