Helping Cystic Fibrosis Patients Breathe Easier - RAH Research Fund
News 28 March 2017

Helping Cystic Fibrosis Patients Breathe Easier

Thanks to your support, lifesaving research at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) is already changing the lives of people living with cystic fibrosis (CF), the most common life threatening genetic condition in Australia.

With no current cure, CF mainly affects the lungs and digestive system and results in sufferers developing thick mucus in their lungs, which can block the small airways and lead to infection and progressive lung damage. Most people with CF need to undertake a variety of time consuming treatments each day to help clear the thick mucus from their lungs.

While research in recent years has led to improved therapies for this condition, Nathan Ward, a physiotherapist at the RAH, is dedicated to further enhancing the quality of life of patients with CF by looking at the role of exercise as a therapy as part of his PhD study.

“From a physiotherapy point of view, we treat patients with CF by using various breathing techniques and devices to help remove the mucus from their lungs. If the mucus is not cleared it can block the airways and lead to more infections and ultimately damage the lungs,” Nathan said.

Nathan’s study will provide preliminary evidence on whether exercise can be used as a stand-alone airway clearance therapy for those people with mild CF respiratory disease. 

“Many patients report using exercise as a form of airway clearance,” Nathan explained.

“International guidelines say exercise will assist with airway clearance for patients with CF but is not a replacement for other airway clearance techniques. We are interested in seeing if patients can use exercise as a stand-alone form of airway clearance as this may improve their quality of life by reducing the time burden associated with their treatment regimens”.

Now in the midst of his study, Nathan is aiming to recruit 20 patients with CF who have a lung capacity of over 70 per cent. Thanks to your support, the RAH Research Fund awarded Nathan a recent grant enabling him to purchase Fitbits ™, aerobic steps, lung function testing and recruit a physiotherapy assistant for the study.

“Patients on the trial will be on our standard care for four weeks, which involves a daily routine of Positive Expiratory Pressure (PEP) therapy (an airway clearance technique) and 30 minutes of moderate to strong intensity exercise” Nathan said.

“After the four weeks we’ll then randomise patients for three months and some will continue with this routine each day and some will stop the PEP treatment and just continue with exercise.

“This is an initial trial that will help us to decide if the protocol is feasible before attempting a larger multi-centred study”.

If a larger multi-centred study finds exercise alone is sufficient for adults with mild lung disease, this could not only save patients having to do other airway clearance techniques but may also help to improve their adherence with other therapies as a result of the time savings.

Thanks to you, Nathan is able to pursue this translational research to improve the lives of people living with CF today. If you would like to learn more please contact us on (08) 8222 5281 or