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Imagine losing nearly all of your siblings to cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that makes it difficult to breathe. There are some treatments, but so far, no cure.
But Wanda O’Neal is working to turn her personal tragedy into triumph.
Dr. Wanda O’Neal, Marsico Lung Institute UNC Cystic Fibrosis Center says, “My mom had nine children, yeah, it was a big family.”
Dr. O’Neal gets emotional when talking about her eight siblings.
She says, “I knew that my sisters and brothers had cystic fibrosis.”
In fact, six out of the nine children were diagnosed with the debilitating lung disease.
Dr. O’Neal continues, “My sister Nancy, she was the first to pass away.”
One by one, O’Neal watched helplessly as five of her siblings became sick with pneumonia, eventually succumbing to CF.
Searching for a way to turn tragedy into triumph, Dr. O’Neal has dedicated her life to CF research at the University of North Carolina.
Dr. O’Neal says, “We’re making steps.”
Amazingly, O’Neal’s 50-year old brother Mike is living with CF. Her team of researchers is working to identify what’s helped him survive. Researchers are also taking the CFTR protein that’s defective in patients and altering it in the lab so it works better to keep mucus in the lungs hydrated. UNC scientists are collaborating with drug companies on treatments that would make the defective protein work better in patients.
Dr. Richard Boucher, UNC Marsico Lung Institute director explains, “We’re developing the
technology to actually personalize it, to tailor the optimal therapy for that person.”
Dr. O’Neal says she will never stop working to find a cure for CF, with the memory of her siblings pushing her on.
Dr. O’Neal says, “It makes a difference that people still remember them for the people that they were, not the disease that they had.”
A family’s fight, inspiring hope in the battle against cystic fibrosis.
The UNC researchers say the new treatments should be available in three to five years. The hope is to extend the life span of patients from their 40’s well into their 70’s.