Scientists Develop New Way to Test Cystic Fibrosis Drugs

Each year pharmaceutical companies spend millions developing and testing potential treatments. These drugs have to go through many levels of testing to make sure they are safe and effective. And that takes time — which some patients just can’t afford. Now, drug therapies for cystic fibrosis may have a better, faster method for finding out their effectiveness.

Recently, University of North Carolina School of Medicine researchers have developed a new laboratory model of the infection- and inflammation-plagued airways of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. The model, described in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine,includes primary bronchial epithelial cells from CF patients as well as infectious/inflammatory factors normally found in the CF airways. Pharmaceutical companies are now using the new model to test existing and potential CF therapies.

In their study, the UNC scientists showed how the model can be used to measure and compare the responses of CF and normal airway cells to CF-related infectious/inflammatory factors.

“Understanding how airway cells respond to that environment gives us a better way to assess pre-clinically the likely effectiveness of novel CF therapies,”said principal investigator Carla M. P. Ribeiro, PhD, associate professor in the department of medicine and member of the UNC Marsico Lung Institute.

CF afflicts about 30,000 people in the United States, and causes thick, sticky, and immobile mucus, giving inhaled pathogens an environment in which they can thrive. The resulting chronic infections cause progressive lung damage, leading to respiratory failure. Treatments for CF include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory and mucus-thinning drugs, and even lung transplants, but most patients die before age 50. To read more about CF, click here.

Ribeiro is now working with pharma companies to use the model to test prospective CF drugs. “This model has been very useful so far in our research, and I hope it will soon be useful more broadly for the CF research community,” she said.

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