New research suggests that inhaling hypertonic saline, a water-based concentrated salt solution, could provide long-term benefits for lung health in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). Researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill tested the effects of inhaling the saline four times daily for 14 days in 24 older patients with CF (ages 14 years or older). The treatment significantly improved mucus clearance, lung function, and breathing symptoms. If confirmed, the findings could lead to a new and inexpensive treatment for CF. The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
"Sustained Improvement in Mucus Clearance and Lung Function in Cystic Fibrosis with Hypertonic Saline" will be published in the January 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). This week's NEJM also includes a report by Australian researchers who followed 164 patients receiving a similar treatment for nearly one year, as well as an editorial about the two studies.
NHLBI lung disease experts James Kiley, PhD, director of the Division of Lung Diseases, and Gail Weinmann, MD, director of the Airway Biology and Disease Program, are available to discuss the research findings and the outlook for CF patients. CF is a chronic, progressive, and frequently fatal genetic disease that affects about 30,000 children and young adults in the United States. The UNC researchers believe that the concentrated saline increases mucus volume, which helps the airways to clear bacteria and inhaled debris and could limit the number and severity of lung infections. Repeated infections are thought to contribute to lung damage over time. The study results could be particularly important if future research shows that the treatment similarly benefits infants and young children and could ultimately prevent or delay lung damage. Respiratory failure is the most common cause of death in CF patients.
To schedule interviews, contact the NHLBI Communications Office at 301-496-4236.