A new study will look at how genetic defects responsible for cystic fibrosis can increase blood sugar levels in people with cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.

The research, led by scientists at Newcastle University, in collaboration with Ulster University, Northern Ireland; Lund University, Sweden; University of Szeged, Hungary, and University of Iowa, USA, will aim to find out the key reasons behind the health condition.

Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes is unique and works differently to type 1 and type 2 diabetes. While the cause is unknown, the development of the condition can speed up lung disease, which is the main reason for death among people with cystic fibrosis.

Discovering how the defective gene affects the body’s ability to regulate insulin levels is crucial to working out how to prevent diabetes from developing.

Researchers hope the study, which includes cystic fibrosis and diabetes specialists in the UK, Europe and USA, could identify treatment options for people with cystic fibrosis to help prevent diabetes and improve life-expectancy.

James Shaw, Professor of Regenerative Medicine for diabetes at Newcastle University; Honorary Consultant Physician specialising in diabetes at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and member of the DRWF Research Advisory Board, is spearheading the international collaboration.

He said: “This pioneering research project is extremely exciting as it brings together leading scientists from the fields of diabetes and cystic fibrosis, something that has not happened before.

“Given the significant, detrimental impact of CFRD on lung function and life-expectancy for patients with cystic fibrosis, better understanding of these processes is urgently needed.

“Our research has the potential to identify new treatment options that could enable the majority of cystic fibrosis patients to live longer and healthier lives.”

Researcher and microscope.


Cystic fibrosis is a life-shortening genetic condition that causes lungs to become clogged with mucus, making it hard to breathe. Each day two people die from the condition. On average, patients do not live beyond their mid-30s.

The £750,000 study, funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, will run for three years. The Trust is hopeful that this research will have a significant impact on the lives of people living with cystic fibrosis in the future.

Dr Mike Gray, Reader in Cellular Physiology at Newcastle University, who is deputy coordinator of this project, said: “This is an important and timely award from the Cystic Fibrosis Trust into an area that is currently poorly understood, yet is an ever increasing problem for people with the condition.

“This research could lead to the development of new approaches to help limit the impact of cystic fibrosis-related diabetes on the lives of people with cystic fibrosis, and we are very grateful to the Trust and its supporters for the award.”

As many as 2.5 million people in the UK carry the faulty gene that causes the illness. Approximately 50% of adults living with CF have diabetes, having a detrimental impact on lung function and health.

Dr Michael White, Research Associate at Newcastle University, who will be involved in the project, said: “Without this research we would not be able to work on cystic fibrosis-related diabetes in such an efficient way.”

Dr Anoushka de Almeida, Head of Research at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said: “Such a high proportion of adults with cystic fibrosis also live with the added pressures of diabetes.

“We are really excited that we have an opportunity to understand how this additional burden could be prevented for people in the future.

“Research is the biggest single area of investment for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and it's wonderful to see projects like this aiming to make such positive progress in our fight for a life unlimited.”

Ruth Trigger

Ruth Trigger, 23, of Newton Hall, Durham, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis-related diabetes more than 10 years ago, said: “I’m excited about this new study. It’s great to hear that researchers are focusing on helping people with cystic fibrosis-related diabetes as it could benefit patients in the future.

“Managing cystic fibrosis-related diabetes is a fine balancing act as the treatment for cystic fibrosis can negatively impact on the diabetes and vice versa. Some days are easier than others.

“The more research that goes on the better as it means that one day scientists might be able to identify a way to put an end to cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.”


Ciara Hillyer

Ciara Hillyer, 23, of Bristol, added: “Living with cystic fibrosis is tough enough, but the added complication of cystic fibrosis-related diabetes can be quite disrupting.

“The constant worry of ‘are my blood sugars okay? Do I have my blood sugar testing machine with me? Do I have my insulin? Am I safe to drive? Have I got enough food with me?’ are all questions that I have to answer regularly throughout each day. This is in addition to the vast array of complex treatments required to survive with cystic fibrosis.

“If researchers could find a way of preventing cystic fibrosis-related diabetes it would go a long way to lifting some of the burden people with cystic fibrosis have to live with on a daily basis.”

A short film about the research project can be viewed here:

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