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Dundee researchers breakthrough in Cystic Fibrosis research

`Fat controller’ offers key to breakthrough treatments in Cystic Fibrosis & other diseases

Researchers at the University of Dundee have uncovered key links between Cystic Fibrosis and other diseases and conditions including cancer, diabetes and obesity, findings which could open the pathway to new areas of research into understanding and treatment.

Dr Anil Mehta, who has worked in Cystic Fibrosis research for 20 years, and heads the European Union-funded Cystic Fibrosis Database based at the University, led the research which centres on the role in the body of a newly discovered hybrid protein dubbed the cellular “fat controller”.

Dr Mehta and his team have uncovered genetic pathways which lead through this fat controller and form links between Cystic Fibrosis and the other conditions.

“It has long been known that Cystic Fibrosis patients suffer significant variations in weight - they tend to be very thin and can suffer very fast weight loss when they fall ill - but we did not know why this was the case,” said Dr Mehta, a Reader in Child Health in the Department of Maternal and Child Health Sciences at the University of Dundee.

“Similarly it has been known that CF patients suffer a higher rate of cancer than normal and again we did not know why. In equal measure, almost half of these patients develop an unusual form of diabetes.

“What our research has uncovered are the genetic links, through this cellular fat controller, which we believe lead to these differences in fat metabolism and cancer. Furthermore, there are also significant links here to diabetes.”

Dr Mehta said the findings could have a major impact on research into Cystic Fibrosis and the other conditions and, subsequently, the treatment of patients..

“The implications of this are that we have opened up a whole new area of research which links all of these conditions, and from here on in researchers looking at cancer, diabetes, obesity or Cystic Fibrosis should all be working with each other and looking at what the other is doing, because it is all linked together.

“We believe that these results could have a significant impact in terms of the treatment of patients with all three diseases - Cystic Fibrosis, some forms of childhood cancer and adult onset diabetes - and, hence, their potential life expectancy.”

Dr Mehta’s research examined the relationship between three cancer-related enzymes that are associated with diabetes (NDPK), fat metabolism (AMPK) and Cystic Fibrosis (CFTR).

They found a new pathway between NDPK and AMPK which leads to variations in fat metabolism - this they have dubbed the fat controller. Additional research found that these enzymes also bind to a protein that causes cystic fibrosis, CFTR.

The new research work was carried out by Dr Mehta and a team including Research Fellow Dr Russell Crawford. A team of international collaborators in Italy, Germany, France Portugal and the USA provided further support.

Results of the research, funded by grants from the Wellcome Trust and Cystic Fibrosis Trust over the last 10 years, are published in the scientific journals ‘Cellular and Molecular Biology’ and ‘Cellular Signalling’.

In order to further debate and create greater cross-disciplinary collaboration in this area of research, the University has agreed to support Dr Mehta’s efforts to host a major international conference of experts in NDPK, AMPK and CFTR in Dundee in September 2007.

Roddy Isles | alfa
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