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1 in 3 adults with cystic fibrosis also living with diabetes, cutting lives even shorter

1 in 3 adults with cystic fibrosis is also living with diabetes caused by their condition, leading to poorer lung function and a shorter life expectancy than other people with CF – a new ‘Research In Focus’ report published by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust shows.

The new report shines a light on cystic fibrosis and diabetes, showing that CF-related diabetes (CFRD) is one of the most common complications of cystic fibrosis. The signs and symptoms of CFRD share similarities to both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes but CFRD is a distinct condition with a different underlying cause. Of the 7,400 people with CF eligible for CFRD screening, 2,200 said they were receiving treatment for CFRD.

This means a huge extra burden of treatment on top of their normal treatment for CF. People with CFRD have worse lung function than people with just CF, and, ultimately, likely to have shorter lives. The condition requires daily careful dietary monitoring, regular monitoring of blood sugar levels, and insulin injections multiple times a day.

But thanks to the launch of a new research programme, the end of painful insulin injections could be in sight as researchers are set to explore how to avoid the need for daily injections, eventually leading to cutting-edge treatment.

The scientists will look at the way signals move from the digestive-juice-producing parts of the pancreas to the insulin-producing cells, which signals cause the most damage and whether these signals can be measured in the blood of people with cystic fibrosis to help us understand more about CFRD and how it develops.

Professor James Shaw, study lead from the University of Newcastle, said:

“Our research could be game-changing for people with CF who also have diabetes. We believe that CFRD is caused by signals from damage to the digestive-juice-producing part of the pancreas, which stops insulin-producing cells from working properly. Understanding more about these signals could lead to entirely new approaches to treating diabetes, avoiding the need for insulin injections.”

Dr Lucy Allen, Cystic Fibrosis Trust Director of Research, said:

“Biomedical research can help us answer really tricky questions, many of which are so complex that we can only find the answers by working with some of the best and brightest experts from around the world. Our research programme is truly an international effort designed to tackle these questions for CF, drawing on scientists from across a range of disciplines.”

The Trust is investing £750,000 over three years into the research which commences in September and sees 12 researchers from six countries working on the programme, in addition to £750,000 it has already invested into research.

Dr Keith Brownlee, Cystic Fibrosis Trust Director of Policy, Programmes & Support, said:

“Cystic fibrosis is a complex condition that can affect many different parts of the body, not only the lungs.

“Developing CFRD is one of the most common complications of cystic fibrosis and means the body can’t release enough insulin – an important hormone that helps to regulate the amount of sugar in the blood – from where it’s made in the pancreas.

“We know that preventing CFRD is a top priority for people with cystic fibrosis, that’s why we’re investing in research in this area.”

Millie Quine, aged 17, was diagnosed with CFRD in 2018. She said:

“I was told once by a nurse, don’t let CF be a backpack. Don’t let it be something which sits in the corner of your room that you put on and take off. Let CF be part of you. Since she said that, I’ve felt at ease with my condition.

“My daily routine of treatment is pretty hectic and there’s been many a time when I did not feel like myself. Sometimes, I’d get quite light-headed which is a symptom of CFRD. But I won’t ever let it stop me doing all the things that I love.”

There are over 10,509 people in the UK living with cystic fibrosis which slowly destroys the lungs and digestive system but a recent YouGov survey commissioned by the Trust reveals only 6% of people knew cystic fibrosis affects the pancreas and 2% were aware the condition can affect diabetes.

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