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Spotlight on Research

Investigating non-invasive diagnostic for lung infections

Investigating non-invasive diagnostic for lung infections  

Cystic Fibrosis Canada has invested over $200 million in research since its founding in 1960. Most of these investments were through our own annual Grants & Awards competition, and some resulted in significant advances in the field of CF. But CF Canada is also working hard to develop and/or take advantage of opportunities to work with other organizations to co-fund research where our goals align. In addition to our commitment to fund only the best CF research, such opportunities have the added benefit of a lower cost than we would have funding on our own since the costs are shared by our funding partners. This allows our research funds, which come from fundraising efforts and charitable donations through our hard-working CF community, to go much further.  

In late 2021, we were able to co-fund with Michael Smith Health Research BC a three-year research trainee award for a researcher working to develop a non-invasive diagnostic for lung infections in CF. Dr. Shekooh Behroozian, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia working in the laboratory of Dr. Jane Hill, received this award for her study, Development of a non-invasive diagnostic to detect bacterial pulmonary infections in patients with cystic fibrosis. This work aligns with our community health priorities: Improve airway infection detection and?treatment? and Predict and prevent pulmonary?exacerbations?.   

“We are pleased to partner with Michael Smith Health Research BC to support outstanding researchers in British Columbia who are doing world-class research in the field of cystic fibrosis,” said Dr. Paul Eckford, Program Director, Research, Cystic Fibrosis Canada. “Collaborating and co-funding with organizations like Michael Smith Health Research BC provides us with the unique opportunity to double the impact of our donors’ dollars, going further in our quest to lengthen and improve the lives of Canadians living with cystic fibrosis.” 

The standard method to detect airway infections is the analysis of patient sputum samples. However, it can be difficult to collect these samples, especially in children, and in some individuals on CF modulators where the amount of sputum produced may be low. In this case, an invasive method called bronchoalveolar lavage collection can be used. It employs a bronchoscope to deliver a volume of fluid into the lungs that is then collected and analyzed for infection. There is a need for other methods to quickly (and non-invasively) identify the existence of an infection, and the types of bacteria present.  

It has been known that molecules produced by bacteria or caused by the body in response to bacteria colonizing the airways can be found on the breath of patients. Dr. Behroozian’s hypothesis is that bacteria may produce different sets of these molecules on the breath, like a fingerprint that may have the potential to diagnose when lung infections are occurring. The method may even provide some information about how the bacteria may respond to different treatments. This could help treat infections earlier and more successfully. Dr. Behroozian will analyze breath samples from many different patients to learn more about these molecules 

Dr. Hill’s lab has been focusing on identifying the “breath-prints” for Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Pa) and Staphylococcus aureus (Sa), which are two of the most common bacteria that cause lung infections in people with CF. Dr. Behroozian is working to study other bacteria that cause infections in people with CF, such as Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc), Haemophilus influenzae (Hi), and Stenotrophomonas maltophilia (Sm). Bcc, in particular, is a concern since these bacteria can cause a rapid and significant decline in lung function when they infect people with CF. Cystic Fibrosis Canada funds a facility in BC that detects Bcc infections in shipped sputum samples collected from patients, and banks Bcc samples for research studies. However, a method such as that proposed by Dr. Behroozian might detect Bcc in patients faster and more easily, allowing the right treatment to start sooner. 

Dr. Behroozian was awarded the 2021 Michael Smith Health Research BC Scholar and Research Trainee award in support of this work.  

It has been a great honour to receive this award from Cystic Fibrosis Canada to support my research which I highly appreciate,” said Dr. Behroozian. I am excited about the outcome of this research as it could have a remarkable positive impact on people with CF by providing a timely non-invasive diagnostic tool to detect lung infections and guide effective treatments.