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4 projects target cystic fibrosis with Hunt for a Cure funds

EAST LANSING, Mich. Discovering new treatments and battling dangerous infections are the focus of four Michigan State University researchers targeting the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis with projects funded by a Grand Rapids-based advocacy organization.

The research studies, with support from a $110,000 grant from Hunt for a Cure and administered by MSU's Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, expand the relationship between the two organizations. Funding from Hunt for a Cure already has established a mouse colony at MSU that has been key in providing data on preventing cystic fibrosis infection in the lungs, said Gregory Fink of MSU's Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute.

"We have found Hunt for a Cure to be amazingly well-informed on the science of cystic fibrosis and highly sophisticated in its understanding of the medical research process, and we're proud that MSU scientists helped improve our management of this extremely important health problem," he said.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes the body to produce abnormally thick, sticky mucus, leading to life-threatening lung infections. Although a rarer disease, it is ranked as one of the most widespread life-shortening genetic diseases; 1 in 4,000 U.S. children are born with the disease.

The four new MSU projects are led by:

  • Bruce Uhal, Department of Physiology: Uhal is testing the theory that a group of molecules important in controlling blood pressure called angiotensins also are involved in how cystic fibrosis damages the lungs. One possibility is using well-studied drugs currently used for blood pressure control in the treatment of cystic fibrosis. The studies are being done using the established mouse colony.

  • Martha Mulks, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics: People with cystic fibrosis often experience serious lung infections, one of the worst being caused by the pathogen Burkholderia cenocepacia. Mulks' research group is working to identify genes of the pathogen contributing to its ability to cause infection; previous work has identified several "mutant" genes showing a reduced ability to cause disease in models. The goal is to test whether the mutants also show reduced ability to cause disease in the cystic fibrosis mouse model established at MSU, hopefully leading to new therapeutic options to prevent and treat infection.

  • Dana Spence, Department of Chemistry: Increased infection due to bacterial growth is one of the main complications associated with cystic fibrosis. While bacterial growth is often thought to be a result of the mucous build-up in the airways of patients, this project will examine another possible contributing factor. Specifically, the cells in our body responsible for clearance of bacteria (the macrophages) need glucose as an energy source to perform this important task. However, some cells in the bodies of people with cystic fibrosis do not take in glucose as readily as most people. Spence's group hopes to provide evidence that therapies geared towards improving glucose uptake into the cells of people with the disease will help reduce bacterial infections.

  • Chris Waters, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics: The bacteria infecting the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients predominantly exist encased in a protective layer of sugar, DNA and proteins known as biofilms. The biofilms help bacteria resist the body's immune system and enable them to survive antibiotics. Waters' laboratory will examine the potential of new anti-biofilm molecules to treat the bacterial infections.

Since 2008, the Grand Rapids-based Hunt for a Cure has donated more than $215,000 to MSU.

"The funding has allowed us to expand our research capabilities in this field and allows possible new therapies to be tested much more rapidly and safely than before," Fink said.


Contact: Jason Cody
Michigan State University

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