Scientists in Ireland are developing a new treatment for lung diseases, including cystic fibrosis and asthma, as part of an €8.8m international project.

The first of its kind dry powder inhaler will deliver an innovative drug into the lungs in a way that is hoped will effectively break up thick sticky mucus that can cause lung infections.

Cystic fibrosis is caused by a genetic anomaly that leads to the production of a thick sticky mucus in the lungs, which in turn can lead to serious infections.

Ireland has the highest incidence of cystic fibrosis in the world.

While there are therapies that can break up the mucus, there are a limited number of effective ones.

In fact there have been no new versions of these mucolytic therapies in the past 20 years, and only one in the past 50.

Scientists at the University of California and University College Dublin have developed a novel compound which shows great promise as a drug for breaking up mucus.

Professors John Fahy and Stefan Oscarson from those universities have secured €8.8m from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) for two projects associated with the development of new lung disease treatments.

As part of one of these, scientists from the Science Foundation Ireland-funded AMBER and SSPC centres, led by Prof Anne-Marie Healy, head of the school of pharmacy at TCD have been awarded €600,000 to devise a new method of delivering the drug into the lungs.

They will develop a first of its kind dry powder inhaler that will enable the treatment to reach the mucus and break it up.

Professor Anne Marie Healy, Head of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Trinity, Investigator in AMBER and SSPC (The Synthesis and Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre, led by the University of Limerick) said, 

"I am delighted to be part of a transnational NIH project, which aims to take the research from bench to bedside," said Prof Healy.

"Ireland has the highest incidence of cystic fibrosis in the world, with approximately 1 in 19 Irish people carrying one copy of the altered gene that causes the condition.

"In addition, Ireland has the fourth highest prevalence of asthma in the world, with almost 5,000 asthma admissions to hospital on average each year.

"Our proposed new treatment has the potential to greatly improve the respiratory function of these patients with lung disease, thus improving overall quality of life and reducing hospital admissions."

It is expected that within the five year lifetime of the project the new treatment will be clinically trialled on humans.

It is hoped that as well as being used for treating cystic fibrosis and asthma, the inhaler will also be useful for tackling other lung conditions, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.