Northern Ireland Scientists Lead Global Study on CF Related Diabetes Treatments

Patrícia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patrícia Silva, PhD |

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Northern Ireland

A team of scientists from Ulster University, in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, have joined a nearly $980,000  global research study seeking alternative treatment options for patients with cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD).

The new three-year Strategic Research Centre (SRC) study is the first of its kind funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust to look at how genetic defects responsible for CF also increase blood sugars and the patients’ bodies inability to regulate insulin.

In humans, the pancreas controls the breakdown and digestion of food and secretes several key hormones for the regulation of blood sugar levels, including insulin. CF is known to worsen pancreatic function and nearly 50% of all patients eventually develop diabetes.

Principal investigator Dr. James Shaw, a specialist in regenerative medicine for diabetes from Newcastle University, is leading the study in partnership with researchers from Lund University in Sweden; the University of Iowa in the United States; and Szeged University, in Hungary.

“Discovering how the defective cystic fibrosis gene affects the body’s ability to regulate insulin levels is crucial to working out how to prevent diabetes from developing in CF sufferers,” Dr. Catriona Kelly, a CF specialist from Ulster University, said in a press release. “This new research brings cystic fibrosis and diabetes specialists together for the first time to identify crucial new treatment options that could enable the majority of cystic fibrosis patients to live longer and healthier lives.”

CF affects about 450 people in Northern Ireland. About one in every 2,500 newborns every year is diagnosed with the condition in the U.K. It is estimated that 2.5 million across the U.K. carry the faulty gene responsible for CF development.

Even though researchers do not know the cause of CFRD yet, the development of diabetes is known to accelerate lung disease —  which can be life threatening for CF patients.

“Such a high proportion of adults with cystic fibrosis also live with the added pressures of diabetes,” said Dr. Anoushka de Almeida, head of research at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. “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.”