Medical Student Verifies that Half of CF Patients Have Aspergillus Fungus

Patrícia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patrícia Silva, PhD |

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AspergillusHalf of the adults who suffer from cystic fibrosis (CF) are infected with the aspergillus fungus, according to medical data from CF patients in 30 different countries. Not only is the discovery a surprise, as the findings may be relevant for the diagnosis and treatment of the rare genetic disease, but the researcher who discovered the trend is making headlines as well.

Jo Armstead, from Altrincham, UK, is a 21-year-old, third-year student at the Newcastle University Medical School, who made the breakthrough discovery during a summer project. Her work is surprising experts in the field of CF study, and the result of her work, which involved logging hundreds of hours of verification, was recently published in the prestigious medical journal, Public Library of Science.

The medical student examined the data to discover that, among the 75,000 people suffering from CF in her data pool, half of them are over 18 years old. 50% of those adults are infected with the fungus, which is often seen in patients with asthma and bronchiectasis. Aspergillosis, an infection caused by the fungus aspergillus, can cause an allergy called ABPA, which starts in childhood and reaches its peak in teenagers, as well as shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.

Armstead had access to the data during her summer work with Professor David Denning and his team at the Wythenshawe Hospital, UK, the first hospital in the world to perform a double lung transplant on a patient with virtually destroyed organs due to CF. Denning is the director of the National Aspergillosis Centre as well as professor of infectious diseases in global health at the University of Manchester and has great expectations about the outcome of the findings.

“The life expectancy of people with Cystic Fibrosis has been increasing, but aspergillosis has a major negative impact on many. By painstakingly crunching the numbers, Jo has helped us better understand the scale of the challenge which will lead to better diagnostics and treatment strategies. There will be many patients who over the coming years will be grateful to Jo and her work,” Denning explained.

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This was the first time that the worldwide extent of aspergillosis infection in CF patients was studied. “It has been really great to be involved in the first project of its kind ever done, with dramatic results and real opportunities for better health in young Cystic Fibrosis sufferers,” Armstead said. The student, who is currently preparing her final exams, is considering pursuing a career in expedition medicine.