Combatting Cystic Fibrosis

  • November 29, 2012
Combatting Cystic Fibrosis

Marie Brunet has won a prestigious award for her research into a potential drug treatment for Cystic Fibrosis.

A Gates Cambridge Scholar has been awarded the National Silver Medal of the National Veterinary School of Paris for her thesis on a potential drug treatment of Cystic Fibrosis.

Marie Brunet, whose thesis is titled The effect of genistein on Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Regulator (CFTR) mediated chloride secretion: a study on murine colon mucosa, was awarded the Medal in mid-November.

Cystic Fibrosis is a life-threatening inherited disease which affects the internal organs, especially the lungs and digestive system, by clogging them with thick sticky mucus. This makes it hard to breathe and digest food.

Marie, who is doing a PhD in Pharmacology [2011], did her veterinary studies at the National Veterinary School of Paris and worked with the School and the Pharmacology Department of Cambridge University on her thesis after making contact during a summer course.

It looked at the action of the natural drug genistein, found in foods like tofu and soy, on the Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Regulator [CFTR] which can cause cystic fibrosis if altered. CFTR is a transmembrane chloride channel which can be mutated in different ways and leads to a change in a person’s electrochemical balance.

Genistein has been shown to enhance chloride flux through the CFTR which reduces the symptoms of cystic fibrosis and increases life expectancy. Marie looked at what concentrations of genistein were needed to have a positive effect on CFTR, and if those levels could be reached through a soy-rich diet. She also studied two different ways – one direct and one indirect – that genistein acts on CFTR in an effort to understand its role. 

She says further studies are needed to confirm her findings, but funding for cystic fibrosis has been weighted against drug treatment and in favour of gene therapy.

Marie states: “After the great progress made in gene therapy for Cystic Fibrosis by English and American research groups, the alternative of drug therapy has been neglected. And despite an absence of breakthrough discovery and a situation that has not much evolved since the 1990’s in gene therapy, there remains little interest in drug alternatives. I have now moved my research towards a different area, focusing on inflamation. However, I hope this award will increase awareness of the need for pharmacological research on Cystic Fibrosis.”

She adds that her research would not have been possible without the support her supervisor in Cambridge, Dr Lesley MacVinish, and her supervisor at the National Vet School of Paris, Dr Fanny Pilot-Storck. She says: “They kindly guided my first steps as a scientist and fostered my passion for understanding molecular pathways that could make a difference and improve the lives of many.” 

Picture credit: N J White and Creative Commons.

Latest News

Shaping policy and Alzheimer’s research

Just six years since leaving Cambridge, Brianne Kent has secured a role as Assistant Professor, won multiple awards,  become the first early career researcher on the Governing Council of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR] and is currently setting up her own laboratory to further her studies on Alzheimer’s disease. Since January, when she […]

Ed-tech wins Gates Foundation funding for access work

An ed-tech non-profit co-founded by a Gates Cambridge Scholar has received a $980,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop its free college affordability tool. Moneythink, co-founded by Greg Nance who is also its Board Chair, says the money will help it to accelerate the development and reach of DecidED, its free […]

Gates Cambridge: a purposeful community

As the Gates Cambridge Scholarship reaches the end of its 20th anniversary year, its alumni association is holding an event late this month which celebrates some of the factors that have shaped the scholar community. That sense of community, of a global network of leaders, developed and owned by the scholars and alumni themselves, is […]

Fibre optic project aims to improve Sri Lanka’s infrastructure

A Gates Cambridge Alumnus has formed a partnership between his university, Cambridge and Oxford universities and a local engineering company to introduce a cutting-edge technology to Sri Lanka. A team of researchers and industry experts from the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka, the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC), the University of […]