Scientists say a Cystic Fibrosis discovery may lead to a new way to treat patients which will help them breathe more easily.

A team of collaborators, including UCD researchers, has discovered why mucus in the lungs of those with the disease is thick and difficult to cough up - leaving patients more vulnerable to lung infections.

They say naturally-occurring molecules in mucus called polymers are the key to the discovery.

The team found that in CF, inflammation causes new molecular bonds to form within mucus.

This changes it from a liquid to what they describe as “an elastic sludge”.

They found inflammation causes extra bonds to form when molecules are exposed to highly-reactive oxygen molecules released by inflammatory cells in a process called oxidative stress.

Scientists in UCD and their collaborators in the United States have also been exploring potential new therapeutic approaches to dissolve those bonds and return the mucus to a liquid that is easier for the lungs to clear.

Cystic Fibrosis is a genetically inherited disease.

Ireland has the highest incidence of it in the world - with about one in 19 Irish people said to “carry” a copy of the altered gene that causes Cystic Fibrosis.

The team has now applied for funding to get to the state where they can do clinical trials.

They say there are at least five years of testing ahead before they can say they have a new medication.

The research also has implications for other lung conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder as well as for patients on oxygen in intensive care units.