Public Release: 

Queen's University in €6m bid to find new Cystic Fibrosis treatments

Queen's University Belfast is a lead partner in a new €6 million global research program to develop new ways to treat Cystic Fibrosis

Queen's University Belfast

Queen's University Belfast is a lead partner in a new €6 million (euro) global research programme to develop new ways to treat Cystic Fibrosis.

Affecting more than 10,000 people in the UK, Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is one of the most common life-threatening inherited diseases. Symptoms include repeated chest infections, the major cause of death for patients.

The new global programme, known as CF Matters, aims to develop personalised antibiotic treatments for these chest infections. The work could revolutionise the practice of antibiotic prescription and limit resistance to the drugs globally.

The study brings together renowned CF clinicians and scientists from 12 academic institutions and hospitals across Europe and the USA. It is led by University College Cork with Queen's as a lead partner. It will involve lab-based research and clinical trials with 252 patients in seven countries, including around 40 in Northern Ireland.

Queen's lead on the study is Professor Stuart Elborn, Director of Queen's Centre for Infection and Immunity. An internationally recognised CF expert, he led the original trial for a drug which has now been approved for use by CF patients with the G551D gene mutation or 'Celtic Gene'. The drug Ivacaftor, also known as Kalydeco, treats the root cause of CF for people with the Gene.

Professor Elborn said: "When patients have a flare-up they are treated with several antibiotics but it isn't always effective and can lead to antibiotic resistance. In this study we will use molecular next generation DNA sequencing methods to detect all the bacteria present in the sputum of CF patients and use this knowledge to determine what antibiotics should be used in individual patients.

"This personalised antibiotic treatment will be compared with standard therapy for CF patients. We will determine the patient's immune response to all the different bacteria present in the sputum. Using models of infection we will also discover the effect of these bacteria on lung inflammation and infection. The overall impact will be to determine if all bacteria present contribute significantly to lung infection in CF patients and subsequently identify the most effective antibiotic treatment for patients infected with these bacteria."

The study will involve a team of scientists from Queen's Centre for Infection and Immunity including Professor Cliff Taggart, Dr Rebecca Ingram and Dr Sinéad Weldon and Dr Michael Tunney from the School of Pharmacy.

They will collaborate with Dr Damian Downey, Co-Director of the Regional Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centre in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. Dr Downey said: "This important collaborative study with our colleagues in Queen's University will investigate the use of directed antibiotic therapy to treat lung infections. The aim of a more focused treatment plan is to limit the damage that occurs to the lung."

The CF Matters grant comes just weeks after Queen's work on managing Bronchiectasis, another chronic lung condition affecting thousands of people in the UK, was published in leading scientific journals.

The three papers by Dr Michael Tunney from Queen's School of Pharmacy and Professor Elborn, address key issues in the management of the condition, including the detection of bacteria that cause lung infection and how long-term antibiotic use to treat Bronchiectasis can result in antibiotic resistance.

Commenting on the work, Dr Tunney said: "We found that large numbers of different types of bacteria were present both when bronchiectasis patients were stable, and during a lung infection. The results clearly demonstrate that routine diagnostic techniques do not detect many of these bacteria.

"Further studies are required to better understand the relationship between the presence of the bacteria found in the lungs of Bronchiectasis patients and the severity of the condition. More research is also needed into the effects of long-term antibiotic use and development of antimicrobial resistance."

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For more information on the Centre visit http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforInfectionandImmunity

Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke at Queen's University Communications Office. Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5320 or email: comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

Professor Stuart Elborn is available for interview

Queen's University has been given €1.36m from the overall grant awarded by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme.

The full trial name is Cystic Fibrosis Microbiome-determined Antibiotic Therapy Trial in Exacerbations: Results Stratified - CF MATTERS

The study is led by Dr Barry Plant at University College Cork. Research partners include Queen's University Belfast, Université Parus Descartes (France), University of Dundee (Scotland), University of Washington (USA), University of Heidelberg (Germany), Teagasc Food Research Centre (Ireland), Clininfo SA (France), GABO (Germany), Papworth Hospital (UK), University Hospital Leuven (Belgium), Assistance Publique-Hopitaux de Paris (France).

The results of the study will be reviewed by an expert panel who will then develop a tailored treatment plan for each patient. The analysis of all the bacteria present will pave the way for more effective therapeutic regimes and ultimately contribute to the development of personalised treatment for CF patients.

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