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By Jeff Green

It’s a small step in the right direction and one that could have a big impact, giving fresh hope to some of the most vulnerable.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is the most common fatal genetic disease affecting children and young adults in Canada. For those living with it, every day can be a battle to breathe comfortably. Symptoms vary, but more importantly, there’s still no known cure.

Dr. Laleh Alisaraie wants to change that. She would like to give those living with CF—particularly infants—the fighting chance they deserve to live longer, healthier lives.

Health-related research

CF is caused by a mutation in a gene affecting the movement of salt in and out of cells. The result is salty sweat, plus thick mucus, that can obstruct the lungs and making it hard to breathe. CF knows no limits; it can also affect the pancreas, liver and kidneys. Dr. Alisaraie is leading a new research study in the School of Pharmacy with the long-term goal of developing drugs for infants diagnosed with CF. Effective treatments at an early stage would help prevent organ damage, allowing more babies to survive.

“My hope is that our research effort brings us to a point that we find an effective and affordable cure for CF patients that also improves their quality of life.” –Dr. Laleh Alisaraie

Utilizing computer calculations and molecular modelling simulations, Dr. Alisaraie hopes to better understand why CF occurs in the first place.

Mentoring next generation

Not only is she advancing CF research, Dr. Alisaraie is also motivating a new generation of researchers. One such researcher is Blake Power, an undergraduate student in the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science. He received funding from the University Student Summer Internship Program (USSIP) and the Memorial Undergraduate Career Experience Program (MUCEP) to work with Dr. Alisaraie. Both programs are net gains of Memorial’s Strategic Research Intensity Plan, which is structured to strengthen research at Memorial on all levels.

Challenging but critical

Dr. Alisaraie’s team is made up of scientists and collaborators, such as Dr. John Hawboldt, a pharmacist clinician with the School of Pharmacy. The team’s next step is to design drugs based on the knowledge gained from their research. The goal is ambitious and challenging, but a critical one.

Current disease modifying therapy for CF is restricted to two expensive medications. Their research—and potential subsequent breakthroughs—would help put Memorial on the map and hopefully develop novel medications that will allow greater patient access to state-of-the-art therapy and a cure for the troubling disease.

Funder:
Memorial University of Newfoundland

Collaborator:
Dr. John Hawboldt, School of Pharmacy

Student:
Blake Power, undergraduate, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science

This article is part of a bi-weekly collection of research profiles celebrating the contributions of Memorial researchers. Be sure to check back for future profiles.


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