Lives unaffected by cystic fibrosis

Current Research

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Ann Maree Bosch Career Fellowship 2018

Project Title: RNA-based therapeutics for mutation-independent CF therapy

Name: Sharon Wong

Institution: School of Women’s and Children’s Health & University of NSW (UNSW)

Duration: 12 months

Summary: Cystic fibrosis (CF) is caused by mutations of the CFTR gene which results in dysregulated salt and fluid transport in the body. There has been significant progress in CF therapy in the last 25 years; the average life expectancy of CF patients are now at ~38 years compared to 12 years when the gene was first discovered. Indeed, medications currently approved for CF patients, Kalydeco® and Orkambi® significantly improve symptoms and quality of life of CF patients, although they are only effective for patients with certain mutations eg. G551D and heterozygous DF508. Treatment option for patients with other CFTR mutations or perhaps one that works for all CF patients indiscriminately is still lacking.

The goal of this project is to develop an effective treatment for the general CF population, irrespective of their mutation types. We first establish a personalized and predictive platform for testing potential drugs in our lab by using patient-derived tissue specimens. Miniaturized versions of each CF patient are created using their own stem cells from lung and gut tissue, called the “CF AVATAR”, which swells up when a potential new drug restores the defective function of the CFTR protein. Notably, a recent study showed the reduction or absence of a novel human gene called BGas was shown to boost CFTR levels independent of CFTR mutation types. We will thus explore the therapeutic potential of a few small molecules targeting BGas in the patient-derived “CF AVATAR”. If successful, gene targeting will herald a new dawn in CF therapy, with one drug that works wonders across the entire CF population 

Reports: None to date (not due)

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Innovation Grant 2017

Project Title: Investigating the role and therapeutic targeting of iron in cystic fibrosis

Name: Jay Horvat

Institution: University of Newcastle, NSW

Duration: 3 years

Summary: Whilst improved therapeutic strategies have become available for CF, many patients still frequently experience exacerbations of disease that result in progressively increasing lung pathology and deteriorating lung function.

Infections play an important role in this progression of CF with persistent Pseudomonas infections a major contributor to CF morbidity and mortality. More effective strategies are desperately needed to improve efficacy for the treatment of Pseudomonas infection in CF in order to improve patient outcomes.

Studies have shown that iron levels are increased in the airways of CF patients and increased iron stimulates Pseudomonas biofilm formation, aggregation, adhesion and invasion, allowing the pathogen to avoid host removal. Indeed, in clinically stable CF patients, there is a strong positive correlation between sputum iron and Pseudomonas levels. These findings suggest that increased iron in CF patients is a potential causal factor of Pseudomonas persistence.

In this new study, we will use a novel combination of experimental models of increased iron loading in the lung and Pseudomonas infection and clinical investigations to better understand the role of iron in the pathogenesis of CF. We will also determine whether therapeutically suppressing increased iron levels in the airways improves the clearance of Pseudomonas infection from the lungs


Title: NA therapeutics: novel paradigm in mutation independent CF therapy

Name: Shafagh Waters

Institution: University of NSW (UNSW)

Duration: 3 years

Summary: Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease, most common among people of European ancestry, afflicting ~70,000 individuals worldwide. It is caused by defects in a single gene that codes for the CF Transmembrane Regulator (CFTR) protein. Historically, therapies were restricted to treatment of symptoms, but new molecular therapies that restore function to the defective CFTR protein have been developed. Unfortunately, these therapies are only effective for 5% of people with CF.

This project examines how a gene (called BGas) can be genetically manipulated for CF therapy. When BGas is removed from the cell, CFTR function is restored. This therapy will be beneficial to majority of CF patients around the globe – not just 5%.

Miniaturized versions of CF patient gut (mini-gut), using their own cells as starting material are created in the lab. followed by BGas-removing compounds being added to the “mini-gut” to identify those responsive to BGas therapy.

The invaluable results from this project could drive future trials, delivering BGas-removing compounds directly to the CF patients. A similar approach has had promising outcomes for children with spinal muscular atrophy. The discovery of BGas-removing compounds may finally offer light at the end of the tunnel for CF therapy.

Reports: None due


WA Top Up Grants

Hardie Foundation Scholarship 2017

Project Title: The role of Interleukin and necrosis leading to neutrophilic inflammation in children with cystic fibrosis.

Name: Samuel Montgomery

Institution: Telethon Kids Institute WA

Duration: 3 years

Summary: This study aims to determine whether inflammation resulting from cell death in the airway is increased in early lung disease in Cystic Fibrosis (CF). It also aims to identify differences in specific gene pathways during inflammation resulting from cell death in the CF airway.


CFWA Golf Classic 2017

Project Title: Personalised antisense oligonucleotide therapy to correct CFTR function in Cystic Fibrosis patients.

Name: Kelly Martinovich

Institution: School of Paediatrics and Child Health, Princess Margaret Hospital WA

Duration: 3 years

Summary: Current on the market small molecule therapies do not help all patients with CF, since it is caused by over 2000 different mutations. Here, we aim to develop therapies that target the more rare CF mutations. Many mutations change the message that is passed on from the CF gene. This faulty message results in a poorly functioning CFTR channel. The CFTR channel maintains the airway surface liquid in the lungs that helps clears infections.

The therapies that we will aim to develop are another type of small molecule called antisense oligonucleotides (AOs).  AOs can change the faulty message transferred from gene to protein and improve the function of the CFTR protein. Furthermore, AOs can be designed to target a specific site in the CF gene depending on the location and effect of the CF causing mutation that the specific person holds. In predicted cases, AOs in theory could reduce the severity of CF. It is hoped that this study will initiate a personalised medicine pathway generating molecules that lessen the disease severity caused by specific CF-causing mutations.


Abbie Fennessy Memorial Fellowship 2017

 (supported by Technipro-Pulmomed Pty Ltd & Cystic Fibrosis Australia (CFA)

Project Title: Airway Clearance Adherence Monitoring System (ACAMS) – development and initial benchtop trial.

Name: Nathan Ward

Institution: Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH)

Duration: 1 year

Summary: As part of his PhD candidature at La Trobe University, Nathan developed an electronic device that can potentially be used for both clinical and research assessment of adherence to positive pressure-based airway clearance techniques. The device has been called the Airway Clearance Adherence Monitoring System (ACAMS).

Using the funds provided through the Abbie Fennessy Memorial Fellowship, five ACAMS units will undergo independent pressure accuracy testing against Australian standards. Following this testing, the five units will undergo an initial benchtop trial to prove their utility with PariPEP S, PariOPEP and Acapella DH devices for a one week period for each device.

If this initial benchtop study demonstrates that the ACAMS device can accurately record performance of these techniques and provide analysable data on the quality of the technique performance, these data will be used to support applications for an initial pilot clinical trial. It is envisaged that this trial would recruit adults with cystic fibrosis attending the Royal Adelaide Hospital Adult Cystic Fibrosis Service.

The Abbie Fennessy Memorial Fellowship will also be used to cover the costs for Nathan to attend the North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference (NACFC) in October 2018, where he will I will be submitting an abstract on the development and benchtop validation of the ACAMS device along with two other abstracts for presentation at the NACFC.


ACFRT Top-up Scholarships

Project Title: Does high intensity interval training improve fitness in people with cystic fibrosis?

Name: Abbey Sawyer

Institution: School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, Curtin University WA             

Duration: 3 years

Summary: People with cystic fibrosis (CF) who are fitter have improved quality of life and may live longer.

Currently, people with CF are encourage to exercise for 30 to 60 minutes a day, in line with recommendations provided for people who are healthy. This is often difficult to achieve due to the high daily treatment burden and competing demands in life such as work, study and family.

This project will investigate whether 10 minutes of high intensity interval training over an 8-week period improves fitness and other important outcomes such as quality of life, mood, confidence to complete exercise and enjoyment in people with CF.

Reports: None



Project Title: Are altered carbohydrates associated with compromised immune cells in cystic fibrosis?

Name: Harry Tjondro

Institution: Department of Chemistry & Biomolecular Science – Macquarie University

Duration: 3 years

Summary: This project will for the first time use biochemistry to explore the aberrant carbohydrate signatures and their functional significance on CF neutrophils relative to healthy neutrophils, an important type of innate immune cells in CF.

Advancing our understanding of the structural and functional alterations of carbohydrates in CF neutrophils will be valuable in order to unravel the underlying disease mechanisms.

This study will generate valuable, fundamental biochemical knowledge to support the generation of new immune-based therapeutics to alleviate the disease burden of affected individuals.

Reports: None



Project Title: Pseudomonas aeruginosa behavior in cystic fibrosis: new insights using novel super-resolution microscopy.

Name: Simone Visser

Institution: Department of Respiratory Medicine – RPAH, NSW

Duration: 3 years

Summary: Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PsA) is a bacteria which commonly affects cystic fibrosis (CF) patients (80% of adults with CF). Its presence results in increased “flare-ups” and faster decline in lung function. Unfortunately, it is hard to treat and often resistant to many antibiotics.

This project will utilize new technology (super-resolution microscopy) to investigate PsA in the sputum of CF patients.

Changes in the number and behavior of PsA will be investigated when the patient is stable versus when having a flare-up.

In addition, the effects of commonly used antibiotics and new antibacterial treatments on PsA will be investigated.

Reports: None


Special Grant 2016

Project Title: Multi-action antibiotics to treat chronic biofilm infections

Name: Michael Kelso

Institution: University of Wollongong

Duration: 3 years

Summary: Biofilms often build up in the lungs of people with CF. They contain large populations of bacterial cells and are encapsulated within gum-like materials which protect bacteria against the action of antibiotics and against the action of cells in the patient’s immune system.

Antibiotic resistance can be increased up to 1000-fold in biofilms. Associate Professor Michael Kelso from UOW together with members of his research team were the first to discover that low concentrations of nitric oxide (NO) act as a signal that triggers bacteria in biofilms to disperse. When this happens the bacteria become more sensitive to antibiotics and to the body’s immune system. This project investigates the effects of combinations of NO-releasing compounds with antibiotics (cephalosporins) to develop a new way of targeting delivery of NO to biofilms.

Reports: coming soon