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MSU lab studies promising new drug to treat cystic fibrosis

Posted at 5:01 PM, Dec 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-03 17:01:22-05

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A research lab at Michigan State University is studying the effectiveness of a promising new drug to treat cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic mutation that causes thick mucus buildup which leads to potentially severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs in the body.

The drug Trikafta has been shown to dramatically reduce the amount of mucus buildup in people living with the disease.

MSU professor Robert Quinn's research lab is studying the effects of Trikafta. Quinn says the drug aims to treat the underlying cause of the disease.

Specifically, the lab is studying the lung microbiome, the bacteria that live in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis.

"As this drug takes hold and patients improve, will the infections get better? Will they look different?" Quinn said. "Those are some of the questions we are trying to answer."

Quinn described the research as "revolutionary" to the way cystic fibrosis treatment is studied.

"This is one of the first studies to ever look at the effects of the microbiome on this disease," said Lydia-Ann Ghuneim, a postdoctoral student at Michigan State.

As patients take Trikafta, the diversity in their lungs' microbiome increases.

"People with CF generally are dominated by a single microbe, often pathogens," Quinn said. "People that are taking Trikafta... their pathogens are reducing in abundance and other bacteria that look more like a healthy airway are starting to show up."

However, Quinn said scientists don't yet understand how the drug increases diversity in the lungs' microbiome, and thereby reduces the amount of mucus in people with the disease.

But one thing Quinn and his research do understand is the way people with cystic fibrosis respond to the drug. Studies have shown marked improvement in patients' symptoms in a very short period of time.

Few would understand that better than Emma Bush, an undergraduate student working in Quinn's research lab, who has cystic fibrosis herself.

“The effects I have experienced from Trikafta are absolutely amazing," Bush said. "It worked fast. I will say that like 12 hours after I've taken the first dose I'm like, 'I feel different.' So it's really been amazing.”

Bush came to MSU specifically to study cystic fibrosis, and her personal experience with the disease has made the research she and the rest of the lab conducts even more meaningful.

Ghuneim is working with a clinician who treats people with cystic fibrosis, which has allowed her to see the improvement in symptoms firsthand.

"It's absolutely astonishing, really," she said. "The impact that it will have on the individuals themselves, I mean, you can actually see the physical impact happening here, and a lot of research seems very separate from that."

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