There are 130 patients who have received Surette's treatment to date.
the Gauntlet

Cystic fibrosis patients breathing easy

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Cystic fibrosis patients are receiving better antibiotic treatments for chronic lung infections thanks to University of Calgary researchers. The department of microbiology and infectious diseases team, led by graduate student Chris Sibley, is the first to investigate how an often overlooked group of bacteria-- the streptococcus milleri group-- worsens bacterial growth in the lungs of adults. Last month, the findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA.

"One of our goals is to be able to reduce the number of these really acute infection events because it's really these acute infections where patients get hospitalized," said faculty of medicine U of C researcher and professor Dr. Michael Surette. "If we can prevent these events from happening, we can keep the lungs functioning longer."

According to the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, CF is the most common fatal genetic disease to tar-get the lungs and digestive systems of young Canadians. Approximately one in every 3,600 children born in Canada has CF.

The lungs of CF patients typically contain pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria which grow within complex communities of micro-organisms. As a result, CF carriers develop lung inflammation and infections which permanently damage lung tissue. Bacteria have become increasingly resistant to antibiotic treatment. By studying SMG in greater depth, Surette and his colleague Dr. Harvey Rabin determined that antibiotic treatment disrupts bacterial communities and delays the growth of infectious bacteria.

"What's interesting is the patients can be quite stable for awhile and then they have an acute attack," said Surette. "We essentially recognized that [SMG] is probably the cause of exacerbations and treating this bacteria."

Since research began in 2006, 130 people have been successfully administered SMG-targeted therapies.

Rabin, who has used the new method at the adult CF clinic at the Foothills Medical Centre, explained that identifying infectious bacteria helps researchers find suitable treatments.

"It's a routine thing in medicine that when you know what the infecting organism is, you pick the antibiotic that that organism is sensitive to," said Rabin. "We hope that overall, through our research, we can extend the life span but also the quality of life of our patients."

Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation CEO Cathleen Morrison thinks research has improved significantly over the years.

"When our foundation was started in 1960, most children with cystic fibrosis didn't survive to go to kindergarten," said Morrison. "Today young Canadians are living until their late 30s."

Morrison's foundation donated $530,600 towards the study. In addition to the U of C's research, the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation funds more than 50 individual projects each year.

Morrison explained the foundation's main goal is to improve the lives of those combating the disease.

"We're seeking public support to help defeat cystic fibrosis," said Morrison. "To that end we are funding a relatively sizeable program and research and clinical care in order to help people who have CF look forward to brighter times and a brighter future."