Hawai'i State News

University of Hawai’i receives $400,000 federal grant to help cystic fibrosis patients

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University of Hawaiʻi professor Tung Hoang is researching a newly discovered bacterial interaction that affects people with weakened immune systems, particularly cystic fibrosis patients. (UH at Mānoa)

The University of Hawai’i at Mānoa has received a $400,125 grant from the National Institutes of Health for its research of a newly discovered bacterial interaction that affects people with weakened immune systems, particularly cystic fibrosis patients.

The university’s School of Life Sciences research team, led by professor Tung Hoang, hopes its findings will help cystic fibrosis patients avoid hospitalizations and increase their life expectancy.

The interaction is between a bacterial attachment protein in the Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) and its host cell receptor protein. Bcc is a group of bacteria that can cause serious infections in people with cystic fibrosis. Bacterial attachment is the critical first step for establishing infections, making the process an ideal target to prevent disease or hinder progression.


In the United States, there are about 40,000 children and adults living with cystic fibrosis, spanning every racial and ethnic group. People with cystic fibrosis have thick mucus built up in their lungs, which provides a favorable environment for bacteria to establish chronic infections.

“Bcc infection has been associated with a more rapid decline in [cystic fibrosis] lung function, increased hospitalizations and significantly decreased life expectancy,” Hoang said. “The treatment of Bcc infection is particularly challenging due to intrinsic antibacterial drug resistance.”

UH at Mānoa researchers found that the lack of Bcc attachment protein prevents bacterial colonization in the fruit fly crop model. (UH at Mānoa)

The grant will enable the researchers to further explore the significance of Bcc and its host interaction, using in vitro tissue cultures and in vivo models, in whole living organisms such as mice and fruit flies. According to Hoang, this research may have implications for other diseases.


“This discovery is quite unique and interesting because its host receptor protein is closely linked to multiple malignant cancers and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease,” Hoang said.

Postdoctoral researcher Zhenxin Sun

Zhenxin Sun, a UH Mānoa postdoctoral researcher in Hoang’s lab, will lead the research to further characterize this interaction at the molecular level.

“We believe this research has the potential to contribute to our understanding of not only bacterial infections, but also to the development of novel treatments of infectious diseases, by interfering with bacterial surface protein and host receptor protein interaction,” Hoang said.

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