11 Nov 2014

Eureka moment offers hope of cystic fibrosis cure

Twenty-three years ago, my daughter went to University College Hospital, London, for a small operation to insert grommets in her ear. She’d been suffering repeated infections – and that was what they did in those days.

Shortly before the anaesthetic was being administered, a young paediatrician asked me if he could extract some of her nasal cells (amongst the most active regenerating cells in the human body) for some research he was doing. I signed the consent form and forgot all about it – until two weeks ago.

My five-year-old is now 28. And in those long 23 years, Dr Anil Mehta has been researching a new approach to reversing cystic fibrosis. It’s a disease which afflicts 10,000 Britons today and continues to kill young adults in mid life, typically in their 40’s.


Stuart Gordon died 18 years ago, at the age of 23. He is pictured above with Katy Plater who also died of cystic fibrosis and South African professional golfer Ernie Els. His parents have steadfastly fundraised for Dr Mehta and his research ever since. Two weeks ago, the good doctor – now leading the research at the amazing microbiology centre in Dundee University Medical School – emailed me, telling me that the nasal cells had hit their mark and that he and a consortium of Italian and French researchers had had a eureka moment.

Until very recently, cystic fibrosis research for most patients had endlessly drawn a blank. Anil Mehta met his Italian opposite number who was working with a leading French scientist at a conference some four years ago. The Italian expert had found a drug that is used in a completely unrelated disease that cleared the debris that destroys the lung in a patient with cystic fibrosis. His approach amazed Dr Mehta because it was totally new to the field.

But this wasn’t enough. Dr Mehta’s team already had a totally different drug, based on nasal cells, which had reversed the environment in the cystic fibrosis cell present as they regenerated that tissue. They next approached a doctor in Naples who applied the two drugs together to 10 humans, nine of whom no longer display the hallmarks of the disease after only two months of therapy.

The cystic fibrosis mice that they have trialled it upon have provided the same results when measured against dummy drugs. Now all that these teams require is £1.3m to carry out a fully comprehensive trial on 120 sufferers. There is now real hope of a new effective approach for babies and children with this disease.

The work shows how the altruism of ordinary folk in donating their cells coupled to a long struggle can crack seemingly untreatable diseases.

Update: 12 Nov 2014

Many of you have written to us asking if it is possible to donate to Dr Anil Mehta’s research. Stuart Gordon’s parents have volunteered to donate all proceeds given to the Stuart Gordon Fund before the end of the year to Dr Anil’s research who they have steadfastly fundraised for in search for a cure.

The Stuart Gordon Fund, Scottish Charity SC028229, and the Charity Choice link is www.charitychoice.co.uk/the-stuart-gordon-fund

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