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Study may explain low blood oxygen levels for cystic fibrosis patients with infected lungs

Toronto, March 18, 2015

By Geoff Koehler

Dr. Wolfgang Kuebler
Dr. Wolfgang Kuebler

Researchers have defined a new bodily process in mice that may explain why blood oxygen levels are lower for patients with cystic fibrosis when they get a lung infection.

“Infected areas of the lung are not as capable as healthy tissue at adding oxygen to the bloodstream, but no one has shown why this is the case,” said Dr. Wolfgang Kuebler, a scientist in the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science of St. Michael’s Hospital. “We’ve shown that the protein produced by a gene known as CFTR is required to direct blood flow away from infected areas in the lung so that oxygen can reach the bloodstream.”

In cystic fibrosis patients, the CFTR gene is mutated and doesn’t work. Blood flowing to infected areas of the lung is not re-routed by the CFTR protein, resulting in impaired blood oxygenation.

Certain infections may inhibit the CFTR protein even in patients without cystic fibrosis.

“Our findings indicate that strategies aimed at restoring or activating the CFTR protein in patients with lung infection, particularly those with cystic fibrosis, might help improve blood oxygen levels and improve circulation,” said Dr. Kuebler, who is also co-director of the Critical Illness and Injury Research Centre of St. Michael’s.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The project was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research open operating grant, by German Research Foundation grants and by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases grant.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.