Cystic fibrosis drugs have extra benefit

Cystic fibrosis medicines that break down mucus in the lungs may have an unexpected long-term benefit, a study shows.

scientist's hand with laboratory samples

The treatments not only help breathing in the short term. They may also make lung infections develop to be less harmful in the long run, University research shows.

Clogged lungs

Scientists studied how bacteria which infect the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients gather nutrients from their surroundings.

The work builds on the knowledge that most bacteria co-operate to scavenge nutrients from their environment, but some do not hunt, instead stealing nutrients from their neighbours.

Limiting infection

Scientists found that in a viscous environment, similar to thick mucus, the co-operating type of bacteria is most common.

However, in a more liquid environment the number of thieving bacteria increases, eventually outnumbering the scavenging type.

In this environment, because the thieving bacteria are less adept at obtaining food, the bacterial growth slows down.

The results suggest that liquefying lung mucus would be expected to limit the impact of infection in cystic fibrosis.

Genetic illness

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition that affects more than 8,000 people in the UK, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Thick mucus can clog the internal organs, especially the lungs and digestive system, making it hard to breathe and digest food.

The study, carried out by researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh, Oxford and Bath, is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Work was supported by the Royal Society and the Leverhulme Trust.

Treating cystic fibrosis patients with drugs that clear their lungs delivers short-term relief for the patient, but may have long-term health benefits too. We hope that our findings will underline the need for treatments that target mucus in the lungs.

Dr Rolf KuemmerliFormer researcher, School of Biological Sciences