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World-leading scientists at Ulster University are lending their medical research expertise to a £750,000 international study that aims to identify treatment options for cystic fibrosis patients with diabetes.

Cystic fibrosis is a life-shortening genetic condition that causes lungs to become clogged with mucus, making it hard to breathe. Around 450 people are estimated to be living with the condition in Northern Ireland.  In the UK, 2.5 million people carry the faulty gene that causes the condition, around one in every 2500 babies born in the UK every year is born with the disease and each day and two people die from the disease. On average, patients do not live beyond their mid-30s.

Approximately 20 per cent of adolescents and 50 per cent of adults living with CF have diabetes, and the condition can have a detrimental impact on lung function and wider health.  

The three-year study, funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, will reveal how genetic defects responsible for cystic fibrosis (CF) increase blood sugars and the body’s inability to regulate insulin. Ulster University will play a key role in the research which is being led by Newcastle University in partnership with Lund University in Sweden, The University of Iowa in the US and Szeged University in Hungary.

Known as Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD), it is a unique condition and has a different mcchanism 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

Ulster University Catriona Kelly said: “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.

“This new research brings CF and diabetes specialists together for the first time to identify crucial new treatment options that could enable the majority of CF patients to live longer and healthier lives. Ulster University’s specialist expertise in personalised medicine research carried out at our C-TRIC facility in Altnagelvin will be integral to the study.”

Dr Anoushka de Almedia, 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.”