Mucus discovery gives hope to CF sufferers

MRI scan of the human Lungs

Brian Byrne

DUBLIN scientists have discovered why thick mucus builds up in the lungs of sufferers of a chronic disease, leaving them more open to infection.

They found that contrary to previous belief, inflammation in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis causes new molecular bonds to form within mucus, transforming it from a liquid into an "elastic sludge".

The study also explored a new treatment which could be used to help hundreds of Irish people living with the illness.

Researchers from University College Dublin (UCD) joined scientists from UC San Francisco (UCSF) and the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio to carry out the study.

The scientists also looked at a new way to dissolve these bonds and return the mucus to a liquid that is easier for the lungs to clear.

Until now, it was thought that cystic fibrosis mucus is thicker than healthy mucus because it has a greater concentration of molecules called DNA polymers.

UCD chemist and team member Professor Stefan Oscarson designed TDG, a potential new treatment for the disease.

He warned that while the team had applied for funding to develop their new therapeutic approach, "there are at least five years of testing ahead before we can say we have a new medication".

The group predicted that the finding would also explain the thick mucus in other lung diseases, including asthma.

About 1,200 children and adults in Ireland are affected by cystic fibrosis, and 70,000 worldwide.