Experts at Newcastle University are leading a new scientific study to investigate how genetic defects responsible for cystic fibrosis (CF) increase blood sugar levels.
The research is being carried out in collaboration with Ulster University, Northern Ireland; Lund University, Sweden; University of Szeged, Hungary, and University of Iowa, USA.
Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD) is unique and has a different mechanism to Type 1 and Type 2. While the cause is unknown, the development of the diabetes accelerates lung disease, which is the main reason for death among people with CF.
Discovering how the defective gene affects the body’s ability to regulate insulin levels is crucial to working out how to prevent diabetes from developing.
Identifying treatment options
It is hoped that the research, which includes CF and diabetes specialists in the UK, Europe and USA, will identify treatment options for CF patients to help prevent diabetes and improve life-expectancy.
James Shaw, Professor of Regenerative Medicine for diabetes at Newcastle University and Honorary Consultant Physician specialising in diabetes at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is spearheading the international collaboration.
He said: “This pioneering research project is extremely exciting as it brings together leading scientists from the fields of diabetes and CF, something that has not happened before.
“Given the significant, detrimental impact of CFRD on lung function and life-expectancy for patients with CF, better understanding of these processes is urgently needed.
“Our research has the potential to identify new treatment options that could enable the majority of CF patients to live longer and healthier lives.”
CF is a life-shortening genetic condition that causes lungs to become clogged with mucus, making it hard to breathe. Each day two people die from the disease. On average, patients do not live beyond their mid-30s.
The £750,000 study, funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, will run for three years. The Trust is hopeful that this research will have a significant impact on the lives of people living with CF in the future.
Dr Mike Gray, Reader in Cellular Physiology at Newcastle University, who is deputy coordinator of this project, said: “This is an important and timely award from the Cystic Fibrosis Trust into an area that is currently poorly understood, yet is an ever increasing problem for people with the condition.
“This research could lead to the development of new approaches to help limit the impact of CFRD on the lives of people with CF, and we are very grateful to the Trust and its supporters for the award.”
Millions of people carry faulty gene
As many as 2.5 million people in the UK carry the faulty gene that causes the illness. Approximately 50% of adults living with CF have diabetes, having a detrimental impact on lung function and health.
Dr Michael White, Research Associate at Newcastle University, who will be involved in the project, said: “Without this research we would not be able to work on CFRD in such an efficient way.
“This project will allow us to learn outside of our normal centres and to develop specific techniques that we wouldn’t normally be familiar with.
“Having a collaboration like this, on such a large scale, doesn’t usually happen. This is something we’re delighted to be involved with as it will allow us to develop a greater understanding of CFRD.”
Dr Anoushka de Almeida, Head of Research at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said: “Such a high proportion of adults with cystic fibrosis also live with the added pressures of diabetes.
“We are really excited that we have an opportunity to understand how this additional burden could be prevented for people in the future.
“Research is the biggest single area of investment for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and it's wonderful to see projects like this aiming to make such positive progress in our fight for a life unlimited."
Ruth Trigger, of Newton Hall, Durham, was diagnosed with CFRD more than a decade ago.
The 23-year-old says she is delighted that a new scientific study is being carried out to allow experts to gain a better understanding into the complex condition.
She said: “I’m excited about this new study. It’s great to hear that researchers are focusing on helping people with CFRD as it could benefit patients in the future.
“Managing CFRD is a fine balancing act as the treatment for CF can negatively impact on the diabetes and vice versa. Some days are easier than others.
"The more research that goes on the better as it means that one day scientists might be able to identify a way to put an end to CFRD.”
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