Cystic Fibrosis (CF) research at the College of Medicine has received a welcome boost this spring in the form of a recent Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) grant.
The $50,000 Collaborative Innovation Development Grant will be used to further research being done on chronic complications, specifically autonomic neuropathy, being observed in CF patients now that their average life expectancy has nearly doubled.
“(About) 15 years ago people with CF in Canada had a median survival age of less than 40, and now it’s over 50,” explained Dr. Veronica Campanucci, an associate professor in the Department of Physiology. “This is great, but there are a lot of chronic complications that start to show up that they didn’t face before because they didn’t reach that age. And what we know about autonomic neuropathy in CF (is) that we don’t know anything about it.”
Autonomic neuropathy is described as a collection of symptoms caused by damage to the nerves controlling our everyday functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. But it can also include symptoms involving digestion and bowel obstructions – the latter of which is one of the complications that the team will be focused on.
“CF is a genetic disease with the potential to affect many organ systems,” continued Dr. Julian Tam, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Medicine. “And yet the specific mechanism through which it can cause some of these specific manifestations can vary.
“The area that we’ve identified specifically is whether autonomic nervous system abnormalities can have an effect on gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with the condition.”
The research requires the use of a pig-model, since they offer the best models for CF research – though they’re expensive, and quite difficult to handle.
“It’s very sick, and you need good facilities, clinicians and vets that are used to dealing with large animals,” Dr. Juan Ianowski, an associate professor in the Department of Physiology. “The (University of Saskatchewan) is unique in that we can handle this.
“Where I come in is I can offer the pigs that are the best models for CF – I can provide the live animals so we can do the measurements on how the neuro-system works and how that correlates with the (problems).”
Samples collected from the CF animals will be studied by another member of the team, Dr. George Katselis, an assistant professor in the Division of the Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture (CCHSA) and the Department of Medicine, who will study cellular mechanisms affected in CF by mass spectrometry.
“The ultimate goal of this study is to understand what’s the role of CFTR (the mutated gene that causes CF) in autonomic neurons and how these neurons fail in CF, and to develop strategies to monitor autonomic abnormalities, particularly gastrointestinal” Campanucci continued. “So if we are able to discover the mechanisms by which the autonomic system is not working properly in CF, using animal models of the disease, we can next use our findings on humans and use CF patients to monitor autonomic function before they develop neuropathy”
The SHRF grant isn’t the first the team has received for this research – it joins a pair of recent grants from both the Cystic Fibrosis Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in helping to promote the work.
And all three grants prove that funding partners are paying close attention to the work being done in CF research, Ianowski stressed.
“There is this intense force behind researching aspects of the disease that we haven’t paid attention to so far.”